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April 24, 2020

USDA Announces Relief Funding For Farmers And Ranchers, But Does Not Address Biofuels Industry Reque

Lynn L Bergeson

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On April 17, 2020, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, Sonny Perdue, announced $19 billion to farmers and ranchers as part of its COVID-19 relief program. Aimed at providing critical support in maintaining the integrity of the U.S. food supply chain and ensuring that every American has access to the food needed, the funds will be used not only to directly support farmers and ranchers, but also for USDA purchase and distribution. The latter goal means that USDA will partner with regional and local distributors affected by the closure of businesses to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat. The distributors will then provide boxes of fresh food supplied to food banks and other non-profits serving Americans in need. The one element not mentioned in the use of the relief funds, however, was assistance for biofuel producers who are bearing the impact of decrease in consumption.

In early April, 15 U.S. Senators had submitted a bipartisan letter to Secretary Perdue, requesting the use of its authority to assist the biofuels industry’s economic circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting the negative impacts of the pandemic on farmers and producers who are suffering from the impact of the decrease in consumption, the letter asked that USDA consider the allocation of additional funds to assist the biofuels industry sector. Assistance would be helpful in the format of reimbursements for feedstocks and additional relief funds to the Higher-Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program to drive future biofuel demand. At the time, the 15 signatories of the letter seemed hopeful of receiving the aid requested and much needed. It seems as though USDA’s focus, however, is not geared toward addressing the biofuel industry’s request. According to an article, Secretary Perdue addressed this issue by stating that it is not within his authority to extend the aid to energy production and that USDA does not have a fundamental way to help the biofuels sector.