WASHINGTON, DC -- Last night, after months of negotiations, Congressional leadership reached agreement on a massive legislative package that combines an FY 2021 omnibus appropriations bill that funds the entire federal government through September 2021, and a $900 billion supplemental coronavirus package that includes crucial assistance for rice farmers along with billions in aid for the ag and food sectors as well as other industries struggling amid the pandemic.
The bill also includes the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that authorizes millions in funding for the Army Corps of Engineers for critical infrastructure projects to improve waterways.
The COVID-19 aid package provides $13 billion for agriculture including a $20 per acre supplemental payment to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2). For rice, the $20 per acre supplemental payment will be made on the exact same planted acres for the 2020 crop year that were certified for the original $15 per acre CFAP 2 payment.
The deal includes $13 billion for SNAP and child-nutrition programs including an additional $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to help food banks meet demand.
Many Americans will receive a $600 stimulus check, and an additional $300 a week in enhanced federal unemployment benefits has been provided. The package also includes $7 billion to expand broadband access, $30 billion for the procurement and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, and $22 billion for testing and tracing.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will receive an additional $280 billion and the agreement extends a tax credit for retaining employees and makes it available to PPP recipients and extends a broader package of tax incentives including $1.8 billion in tax credits for businesses to provide additional paid leave. The aid package also includes $82 billion in funding for schools and $10 billion for childcare.
Coronavirus Vaccine Prioritization
Another important vote was held on Sunday however it did not take place in Congress. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) agreed, by a vote of 13-1, that the second phase of vaccine prioritization should include people 75 and older and critical infrastructure workers including firefighters and police; teachers and school staff; those working in food, agricultural, and manufacturing sectors; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service employees; public transit workers; and grocery store workers.
USA Rice recently submitted comments to the ACIP requesting ag and food workers receive this designation. The panel’s recommendation next goes to the CDC director and to states as guidance to put together vaccination programs. Regardless of the CDC decision there may be differences across the states since each state health department has the final say on prioritization.
“The U.S. rice industry should be especially proud of what we have accomplished in this long, tough year,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward. “USA Rice is working hard with the Biden transition team and looks forward to working with a new Congress in 2021 to continue to advocate for our priorities in the new year.”