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USDA: 100 Days Update

Since January 20, 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration has been on a mission to Build Back Better. From the American Rescue Plan to the American Jobs Plan and now with the introduction of the American Families Plan, action has been taken to provide relief to the American people, and the necessary investments have been made to rescue and begin to rebuild our economy.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has worked over the last 100 Days to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, promote racial justice and equity, address the mounting hunger and nutrition insecurity crisis, rebuild the rural economy, strengthen and build fairer markets for farmers and producers, and address the impacts of climate change through climate-smart practices. As a result, food insecurity and poverty rates are falling, agricultural markets and export opportunities are flourishing, agricultural producers and landowners have more opportunities to participate in voluntary and incentive-based conservation practices, underserved communities once left out of federal programming and decision-making are prioritized once again, and critical infrastructure and business investments are being made to strengthen rural America.

Here is a summary of USDA’s work over these past 100 Days of the Biden-Harris Administration and a look at what is ahead:

Containing the COVID-19 Pandemic


In less than 100 days, over 220 million COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered in the U.S. USDA employees have made vast contributions in the effort to get all eligible individuals vaccinated:

  • 1,232 USDA personnel have been deployed to the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, including 413 currently deployed. In addition, the Forest Service is currently coordinating the deployment of 439 interagency personnel and contractors. Deployed personnel include both vaccinators and support staff. Vaccinators span many USDA agencies and mission areas, including emergency personnel from the Forest Service, as well as vaccinators from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Altogether, USDA-coordinated programs have administered more than one million vaccinations in partnership with several federal agencies as part of a whole-of-government response to the pandemic.
  • As the national animal health reference laboratory, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provides confirmatory testing services for animal samples for COVID-19. In the first 100 days, APHIS has confirmed 62 animals as positive for the virus, including two new species. APHIS has also worked with 37 labs in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to share updated testing protocols, as well as to continue to support the 22 labs with the capability to test human samples.
  • In response to a coordinated need for the latest information on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the food system, consumers, producers and the economy, the ERS COVID-19 rapid response team produced new research in the COVID-19 Working Paper series. These papers explore monthly patterns in food assistance benefits to households, the effects of COVID-19 on food sales, and provide an update to ERS’s International Food Security Assessment.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Census of Agriculture data for COVID-19 vaccine distribution planning in order to effectively help decision-makers in their work to serve agriculture and everyone in the United States.

Working to Drive Down Food Insecurity


Throughout this pandemic, approximately 29 million adults and as many as 12 million children have lacked access to nutritious food. USDA has continually taken steps to strengthen food security, drive down hunger, and put a greater emphasis on the importance of nutrition:

  • USDA announced a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through September 2021, based on funds apportioned by the American Rescue Plan. The increase will provide ~$3.5 billion to households experiencing food insecurity. In addition, on April 1, USDA announced a $1 billion initiative to raise benefit levels for the approximately 25 million Americans who already received the maximum benefit.
  • On March 9, USDA announced an extension of free, nutritious meals for all children throughout the summer and until September 30. To help ensure schools open safely in the fall, USDA took further action to issue a broad range of flexibilities to allow school meal programs and childcare institutions across the country to return to serving healthy meals throughout the 2021-2022 school year. The waivers continue the Administration’s commitment to provide safe, healthy meals free of charge to children as the pandemic continues to threaten the food and nutrition security of our most vulnerable. Flexibilities were also authorized to facilitate easy access to these meals, including expanding eligible group settings and meal times, and allowing parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children.
  • In an effort to provide adequate nutrition to more than 30 million children, USDA announced the expansion of Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits. The program was set to expire on Sept. 30, 2021, but through the American Rescue Plan, benefits are now available for the duration of the pandemic, including during the summer months. At present, 37 states and territories are taking advantage of the benefit.
  • As a follow-on to P-EBT, USDA expanded the program through the summer months when low-income children lack access to school meals that fill a nutrition gap during the school year. Expansion of P-EBT over the summer will provide adequate nutrition to more than 33 million children. Families of eligible children typically receive $6.82 per child, per weekday, or roughly $375 per child over the summer months.
  • USDA also increased food assistance to low-income seniors – a population that has been especially hard-hit by the pandemic – by providing nearly $37 million in additional support to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) to reach more than 24,000 additional seniors across the country. To reach young adults under the age of 25 experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, USDA began reimbursing meals at emergency shelters participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
  • With $490 million provided by the American Rescue Plan, USDA began offering states, tribal nations and territories the option of boosting the cash-value voucher benefits for up to four months through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help purchase of fruits and vegetables.
  • USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has worked to expand partnerships for the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot Program. Today, 1.5 million participants in 46 states and the District of Columbia are accessing their benefits through online purchasing.

Creating Equitable Opportunities


For decades, systemic racism has created barriers to opportunities for many. Cycles of debt and lack of access to programming have left marginalized communities in the agriculture space at a deficit. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these longstanding challenges in the communities where Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, and other socially disadvantaged producers live and farm. USDA is committed to creating a department that provides access to opportunity for all Americans, and to addressing cumulative, systemic barriers for socially disadvantaged farmers.

  • The American Rescue Plan included provisions for USDA to pay up to 120% of loan balances, as of January 1, 2021, for Farm Service Agency (FSA) Direct and Guaranteed Farm Loans and Farm Storage Facility Loans debt relief to any socially disadvantaged producer who has a qualifying loan with FSA. USDA has taken important steps toward enacting these debt relief provisions, including contacting lenders, distributing resources on loan forgiveness, and collecting data on eligible borrowers. More information is forthcoming on debt payments. Learn more.
  • The American Rescue Plan apportioned over $1 billion for a variety of purposes, including guidance on heirs property, credit management, and for the creation of an Equity Commission which will identify and offer solutions for addressing and removing longstanding discrimination and barriers facing USDA staff, customers, programs and services. Senior leadership in USDA has spent these first 100 days consulting with stakeholders and community groups and crafting a charter since this Commission must adhere to the rules set out in the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

Providing a Stronger Safety Net for All Farmers, Ranchers and Producers


Throughout the agriculture sector, COVID-19 has had a lasting impact on many, including farmers, ranchers and producers. To ensure that the agriculture sector rebuilds following the pandemic, USDA has offered new, broader, and more equitable opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers:

  • USDA announced Pandemic Assistance for Producers, an umbrella initiative that will provide $6.5 billion in funding to reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs. Additionally, USDA reopened sign-up in April for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 and announced the availability of $2 million to establish partnerships with organizations to provide outreach to socially disadvantaged producers. USDA has already distributed or announced the intent to distribute more than $330 million in Pandemic Assistance for Producer funds. To learn more, information about Pandemic Assistance for Producers and a list of programs is available.
  • Foreclosures and collection of past-due debts for distressed borrowers were temporarily suspended under the FSA’s Farm Storage Facility Loan and the Direct Farm Loan programs. The relief was extended to 12,000 farmers, or 10% of all FSA borrowers.
  • Technical and financial assistance was provided to help farmers and livestock producers recover from damages brought on by winter storms. Key programs included the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybee and Farm-raised Fish Program, and the Tree Assistance Program.
  • For producers affected by the worsening drought in the West, USDA announced the availability of up to $10 million in assistance from the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus to assist agricultural producers in the Klamath River Basin.

Helping Rural America to Thrive


Rural America has continually been met with challenges as a result of the pandemic. Students have had to seek alternate solutions for accessing school, families have struggled to make rent and mortgage payments, and communities have been faced with lack of access to viable health care. USDA has responded to the needs of Rural America by creating a variety of funding opportunities:

  • One of President Biden’s first actions in office was to extend the nationwide eviction moratorium. USDA has taken steps to ensure that rural communities are not left behind. On Day 1, USDA announced an extension of eviction and foreclosure moratoriums on USDA Single Family Housing Direct and Guaranteed loans through March 31, 2021. In subsequent months, USDA expanded this moratorium to include its Multi-Family Housing portfolio and extended the timeline until June 30, 2021. To ensure compliance, USDA sent more than 400,000 letters to tenants and borrowers informing them of their rights and responsibilities.
  • USDA Rural Development received $100 million as part of the American Rescue Plan for emergency rental assistance. USDA has begun outreach to owners and the process of tenant income verification and contract modification needed to obligate and disburse funds. These funds will provide rental assistance to 30,000 very low income rent overburdened tenants in rural multifamily housing units.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has augmented the importance of telemedicine and distance learning for families across the nation, but especially in rural America. In response, USDA Rural Development awarded $42.3 million in grants toward distance learning and telemedicine infrastructure to improve education and health outcomes for an estimated five million Americans. The funding will be dispersed through 86 awards to 34 States. USDA has also invested $156 million in the building and improvement of health-care-related facilities and emergency response that will benefit nearly 1 million rural residents in nine states and Puerto Rico.
  • Under the Water and Environmental Program, the Rural Energy for America Program, the Electric Loan Program and the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, USDA is investing $487 million in critical infrastructure that will help communities in 45 states. These investments prioritize climate-smart solutions and environmental stewardship, while ensuring Rural communities are at the center of conservation efforts.
  • USDA also announced a $598 million rural electric loan package to build or improve electric infrastructure in 11 states through the Electric Loan Program. This funding will benefit 460,000 rural residents and businesses in Arizona, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia. Several loans in the package will help expand smart grid technologies, which can be a catalyst for broadband and other telecommunications services.

Enhancing Conservation and Science to Address Climate Change


Under the leadership of the Biden-Harris administration, the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and for the first time ever, our country has hosted a global climate summit for world leaders to make commitments to reduce their emissions. USDA is taking steps to put American agriculture and forestry at the center of climate-smart solutions to address climate change:

  • On April 21, USDA opened enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (PDF, 122 KB) (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation. USDA’s goal is to increase enrollment in the program by 4 million acres or more over the coming year, and CRP’s long-term goal is to establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, improve soil health and carbon sequestration, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.
  • USDA also announced $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects to address climate change and other natural resources challenges and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, which are part of the Conservation Innovation Grants program, was announced by the Department.
  • USDA made a $10 million investment in a new program area priority called, “Extension, Education, and USDA Climate Hub Partnerships,” to train the next generation of agriculturalists and foresters to incorporate climate change research into their management practices. The projects funded in this priority area will strengthen and broaden the impacts of USDA’s Climate Hubs through the Cooperative Extension Service, ensuring producers have information needed to plan for changing climate conditions and to consider climate-friendly farming practices.
  • USDA announced investments of $285 million in critical infrastructure, primarily focused on deferred maintenance, transportation, and recreation within national forests and grasslands. The United States Forest Service (USFS) announced investments of $218 million in Great American Outdoors Act projects that work to conserve forests and wetlands, stimulate rural economies, and bolster the public’s access to America’s natural beauty.

Building Fairer, More Competitive Markets for Food and Agriculture Systems

 

  • To help build a more resilient, fairer food supply chain, USDA has is asking for input from U.S. food and agriculture on a range of risks and opportunities, from elevating the importance of local and regional food systems, to addressing the needs of socially disadvantaged and small to mid-size producers, to supporting sustainable practices to advance resilience and competitiveness. Goals of this transformation include a fairer, more competitive, and transparent food system where a greater share of the food dollar goes to those growing, harvesting, and preparing our food and one that promotes and strengthens the overall health and well-being of people, our land and water, and our economy.

Rebuilding the USDA Workforce and Department’s Culture of Excellence

 

  • USDA is committed to ensuring equity across the Department, removing barriers to access, and building a workforce more representative of America. We want our staff to love to come to work every day, doing the important work that will help to move our country forward. In his first week, Secretary Vilsack held an All Staff Town with more than 22,000 USDA employees, where articulated his vision for a fair, inclusive workplace. Since then, the Secretary has held Town Halls with USDA Mission Areas and met with Agency leaders. Other important steps USDA has taken toward improving employee morale include:
  • Integrating the Department’s priorities on equity and inclusion, including the establishment of the first USDA Racial Justice and Equity Working Group
  • Developing a USDA employee experience program
  • Issuing an updated telework policy
  • Ensuring the safety of employees through the pandemic
  • Strengthening USDA’s internal communications program
  • Identifying ways to co-create a culture of trust and transparency
  • Listening to employees by way of town halls and the live employee surveys
  • USDA proposed a strong discretionary budget request for Fiscal Year 2022 that totals $29.358 billion, a $3.76 billion increase from the 2021 enacted level to help, in part, to rebuild USDA’s workforce staffing. USDA suffered an outflow of talented and expert staff in the past few years. The FY22 budget request re-invests in several critical areas including Rural Development, Conservation, and Research, Education and Economics, as well as essential office functions.

Looking Ahead to Rebuild and Reimagine

 

  • One Big Opportunity to Restore the Nation’s Middle Class and Rebuild Rural America: The American Rescue Plan is helping families recover from the pandemic and recapture hope for a brighter future. The American Jobs Plan will help our nation rebuild our economy and rural communities. And the American Families Plan will invest in our kids, our families, and our economic future – because when American families do well, our nation thrives.
  • Right now, USDA is putting the American Rescue Plan into action for the American people by delivering $12 billion in nutrition assistance to American families; providing financial investment across the food supply chain including in farmers and producers; implementing approximately $5 billion in assistance to socially disadvantaged producers; and putting nearly $700 million toward healthcare and housing assistance for rural Americans.
  • The American Jobs Plan will help our nation rebuild our economy and rural communities and create good-paying jobs for American workers with staying power—enough to support a family, have a good home, and give our children a brighter future. The plan:
  • Ensures clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities
  • Brings affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American
  • Reenergizes and rebuilds America’s power infrastructure
  • Invests in healthier forests and grasslands
  • Addresses the affordable housing crisis
  • Modernizes our nation’s schools and early learning facilities
  • Invests in scientific research and development and technologies of the future
  • Retools and revitalizes American manufacturers and small businesses
  • The American Families Plan will invest in our kids, our families, and our economic future – because when American families do well, our nation thrives.
  • Right now, too many Americans are struggling to meet basic needs and cover basic expenses. An economy that fails so many of us is not only unfair, it’s unsustainable.
  • To promote nutrition security, President Biden’s plan will invest $45 billion across four nutrition-specific provisions that provide direct support to children and families and invest in their futures. The plan:
  • Expands Summer EBT, a food assistance program for low-income school aged children during the summer months, to all eligible children nationwide.
  • Expands access to healthy school meals in high needs schools, with a focus on elementary schools.
  • Establishes a healthy foods incentive pilot.
  • Facilitates re-entry for formerly incarcerated individuals through SNAP eligibility.
  • The American Families Plan also includes critical tax reform to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes in order to finance essential investments in workers and families, including childcare, nutrition, higher education and more. Under this proposal, however, estimates indicate more than 98% of farm estates will not owe any tax at transfer, provided the farm stays in the family. Less than 2% of farm estates would owe some tax on non-farm assets.

USDA’s accomplishments in these first 100 Days have played a major role in helping to get our economy back on track, reduce hunger, and give communities greater hope in the future. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA will continue to work to transform America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, ensure access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, build new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, make historic investments in infrastructure and clean-energy capabilities in rural America, and commit to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. Follow our work at www.usda.gov. 

Source : usda.gov

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