WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday announced the availability of more than $330 million to help agricultural producers and organizations in the food supply chain recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding is part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative launched in March, and includes $169.9 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), $75 million for Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP, formerly known as Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive) grantees and approximately $80 million in payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton.
USDA said this funding will aid in developing new markets for U.S. agricultural products, expand the specialty crop food sector, and incent the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers.
USDA also informed dairy producers and processors Tuesday about ongoing plans for the Dairy Donation Program (DDP) as established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
USDA launched the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative in March with $6.5 billion in available funding to address shortfalls and disparities in how assistance was distributed in previous COVID-19 assistance packages, with a specific focus on strengthening outreach to underserved producers and communities and small and medium agricultural operations.
“We launched USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers to respond in a broader, fairer way to the pandemic’s impact across food and agriculture, and we are following through on our promise,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in wide-ranging impacts that were felt throughout the agricultural sector. The Biden-Harris Administration is focused on ensuring that the entire agricultural sector successfully rebuilds following the pandemic, and the funding we’re announcing today will reach a broader set of producers and businesses than previous COVID-19 aid programs.”
Developing new markets for specialty crops
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is announcing $169.9 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to fund innovative projects designed to support the expanding specialty crop food sector and explore new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products. The total includes $72.9 million available as part of the annual Farm Bill funding for the program and an additional $97 million available as emergency funding for applications under this solicitation. Congress provided this funding in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, due to COVID-19 impacts to the food system.
USDA said grant project funding awarded as part of pandemic assistance can also go to organizations to assist farmworkers (such as for PPE and vaccination costs), projects to fund farmers, food businesses and other relevant entities to respond to risks and supply chain disruption.
The SCBGP funds are allocated to U.S. states and territories based on a formula that considers both specialty crop acreage and production value. Interested applicants should apply directly through their state departments of agriculture. A listing of state contacts is available on the USDA website.
Applications must be submitted electronically through www.grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on June 11. Any grant application submitted after the due date will not be considered unless the applicant provides documentation of an extenuating circumstance that prevented timely submission of the application.
For more information about grant eligibility, visit the SCBGP website.
Getting more fruits and vegetables to low-income consumers
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will invest $75 million as directed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Active Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) and Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grantees may request funding to allow them to address critical food and nutrition security needs of low-income communities, enhance the resilience of food and healthcare systems impacted by the pandemic, and maximize funds reaching participants in communities in need.
The GusNIP COVID Relief and Response grants program (GusCRR) helps low-income communities improve the affordability and consumption of fruits and vegetables by vulnerable participants in communities in need. USDA said GusCRR grants will support expanded scope of work started under previous awards to address pandemic relief and respond to community needs in an impactful, timely and authentic way. NIFA will reach out directly to GusCRR eligible applicants with additional details and a copy of the request for applications (RFA).
Eligibility to receive a GusCRR grant is limited to organizations with a current active GusNIP nutrition incentive grant, GusNIP produce prescription grant, or FINI grant that began prior to Dec. 27, 2020. An eligible organization may submit only one GusCRR nutrition incentive grant application and one produce prescription application.
USDA encourages applications that benefit smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged producers, veteran producers, and/or underserved communities. For grants intending to serve these audiences, applicants should engage and involve those beneficiaries when developing projects and applications.
USDA is also updating the currently open FY21 GusNIP RFA to more closely align with the law and extend that opportunity by two weeks to provide potential applicants additional time to consider the full range of available funding.
New assistance for cotton users
USDA will provide approximately $80 million in additional payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton to support textile mills impacted by the pandemic. Under this one-time payment program, known as the Pandemic Assistance for Cotton Users (PACU) program, USDA will pay 6 cents per pound to domestic users based on a three-year monthly average during 2017 through 2019, covering 10 months in 2020. The program and payment formula were established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
Consumption information previously submitted to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service by domestic cotton users as participants of the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills (EAATM) and Special Competitive Provisions for Extra Long Staple Cotton (ELS) will be used in determining payment. USDA will send payment certifications in support of payment issuance to EAATM and ELS program participants. USDA said it could begin to issue payments to domestic cotton users in mid- to late April 2021.
Dairy Donation Program
USDA said it will soon implement the Dairy Donation Program (DDP) as established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
The program will facilitate the timely donation of dairy products to non-profit organizations that distribute food to persons in need and prevent and minimize food waste. Because the statute allows retroactive reimbursements of donations made before donation and distribution plans are approved, USDA provided advance notice today of the minimum provisions to be included in the program to encourage the dairy industry to process and donate surplus milk supplies as it moves through the spring surplus milk production season. For more information, visit www.ams.usda.gov/notices.