Note: This post has been updated to include amendments in the House bill as passed on Friday, May 15th.
On Tuesday, May 12th, House Democrats released the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act). This $3 trillion, nearly 2,000-page bill marks the first legislative language for the next round of COVID-19 relief funding, and lays out Democratic ideals for the forthcoming bill.
Here is a look at of some food and farm highlights in the HEROES Act:
- $50 million in Local Agriculture Market Program funds for COVID response, with no requirement that nonprofits or other organizations applying provide a contribution match.
- $50 million in Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) funds, which include the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers programs. Again, the match requirement would be waived.
- $28 million in grants for farmer mental health and stress assistance.
- $16.5 billion for a direct payment program to producers of “specialty crops, livestock, and other commodities.” This language does not specifically mention producers who grow for local and regional markets, like the CARES Act did, but it does require the Secretary to calculate payments based on location, specialized varieties, and farming practices such as organic certification.
- $100 million in state grants to support specialty crop producers.
- $25 million in state grants to support projects that help with harvesting, processing, packaging, or transportation of dairy, meat, and specialty crops that are donated to food pantries and other emergency feeding organizations. It does not extend to the cost of purchasing these products.
- An emergency soil health and income protection pilot program with per-acre payments to take cropland out of production and into cover crop for a period of 3 years.
- Allowance for flexibilities, to be later determined by USDA, for implementing the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.
- Extends previous student loan debt relief provisions until September 2021, and includes $10,000 in debt relief for public and private student loans for economically distressed borrowers (e.g. those making $0 payments, in default, or in forbearance). Note: An amendment narrowed the original scope of student loan debt relief.
- $25 million for migrant and seasonal farm worker programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
- Provides temporary protections to undocumented workers in the United States engaged in essential critical infrastructure work.
- Defines “essential worker” as regardless of immigration status, and creates a grant program for employers to provide pandemic premium pay (i.e. hazard pay) to these workers.
- An additional $10 billion for EIDL grants and clarification that these grants should not be counted as income for tax purposes. It does not make changes to the advance payments, or clarify that the full $10,000 should be available regardless of number of employees.
- Grants for states ($500 billion), localities ($375 billion), territories ($20 billion) and tribes ($20 billion) to use for COVID-19 response expenses or replace foregone revenue.
The House passed the HEROES Act by a 208-199 vote. The Senate has not indicated a firm timeline for releasing its next bill, and Republican leadership has indicated a desire to pause and assess the CARES Act for longer before beginning a next round of legislation. The Young Farmers federal policy team will continue to keep you updated and advocate for support for beginning farmers, farmers of color, and farm workers throughout COVID-19 relief and rebuilding legislation.