LINCOLN, NEB. – As the Senate meets next week to consider a second stimulus package, farmers and ranchers continue to deal with the fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to Nebraska’s U.S. Senators, Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) President Steve Nelson offered a list of priorities to consider as the Senate looks to finalize the next round of COVID-19 aid.
“While this list isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, these are what we believe must be included in the final bill in order to aid Nebraska farmers and ranchers who have suffered significant economic harm due to the pandemic,” Nelson said.
The next round of COVID-19 aid must include additional funds targeted at providing direct monetary relief to Nebraska’s farm and ranch families.
“Securing these funds for farmers and ranchers should be the number one priority as Congress finalizes this legislation. According to estimates compiled by NEFB, Nebraska’s agricultural economy could face nearly $3.7 billion in losses due to COVID-19 in 2020, if economic conditions do not improve. These losses have the potential to devastate the number one industry in our state and must be met with funds targeting both crop and livestock producers. More specifically, these losses will likely have a significant impact on younger farmers and ranchers who have fewer resources to fall back on during these difficult times,” he said.
NEFB also is urging Congress to reform the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. Both programs have been very helpful to many small businesses including farmers and ranchers. Yet, both programs need several important reforms.
In the letter, Nelson reiterated an ask from earlier this year to reform SBA’s, PPP and EIDL programs to better fit farm and ranch businesses. Those changes for PPP include:
- allowing sole-proprietors to apply based on gross receipts to allow those with negative income figures to qualify for the program,
- ensuring that all expenses paid with PPP loan funds be eligible for a business income tax deduction,
- making all business-related rental payments eligible for loan forgiveness, and
- expanding the list of what counts toward loan availability to include typical farm/ranch expenses.
For EIDL, Congress “must ensure continued access for farmers and ranchers while at the same time, making sure the program does not negatively impact their ability to secure loans from local lenders,” Nelson said
Nebraska Farm Bureau also asked for assistance for very small, small, and medium sized meat packing facilities.
“While we appear to be moving in a positive direction in terms of packing plant operations, the closure of these facilities over the past several months have highlighted the need to expand overall packing capacity. Now is the time for Congress to provide direct assistance and regulatory relief to smaller meat packing facilities to help create more competition in this very consolidated industry. Existing stand-alone bills which should be included in the final package include, the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act of 2020, the RAMP-UP Act, and the DIRECT Act,” Nelson said.
Expanding rural broadband capabilities within rural areas of Nebraska is also a high priority for NEFB. According to data compiled by Nebraska’s Rural Broadband Task Force, rural Nebraskans continue to have less access to broadband coverage than most of our neighboring states in both fixed and mobile services.
“To eliminate this gap, which limits our state’s economic and educational future, we support investment directed at broadband infrastructure expansion, implementation of the Broadband DATA Act, support for the Universal Broadband Act, and the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (E-BRIDGE) Act. These measures will help provide more connectivity in rural areas of the state,” Nelson said.