Dec 22, 2020
Ag benefits from latest COVID relief package outlined, welcomed by National Potato Council

The National Potato Council welcomed the Dec. 21 actions by the House of Representatives and Senate to support agriculture workers, family farms, and local communities struggling to survive ongoing food service disruptions ordered by state and local governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Throughout the year, the National Potato Council and our state partners have fought for increased recognition by the federal government of the unforeseen market challenges growers have experienced during this pandemic,” said NPC President Britt Raybould (pictured top from the 2020 Potato D.C. Fly-In in February) of Rexburg, Idaho. “We appreciate the additional funding to help close some of the gaps in our communities. Americans need practical, real-world solutions to ensure continued access to safe, healthy food, while keeping in place long-term, essential activities required for the wellbeing and sustainability of our industry.”

Through votes of 359-53 in the House and 92-6 in the Senate, Congress passed the 5,600-page package, which included Fiscal Year 2021 agriculture appropriations provisions as well as agriculture and nutrition program funding in the bipartisan December 2020 COVID relief package.

NPC First Vice President Dominic LaJoie of Van Buren, Maine, said: “We’re pleased the two sides finally came together on a key NPC priority: enhanced resources to protect our workers from COVID. Those who work on our farms and processing facilities are family — literally in many cases. This funding provides resources for testing and PPE to keep them safe, ensuring that food continues to get to American dinner tables.”

Highlights of particular importance to the U.S. potato industry include:

Crop loss support

The bill provides an estimated $225 million for supplemental payments to specialty crop producers for crop losses they suffered in 2019.

Ag worker protection

The bill provides $1.5 billion in funding to support food purchases for those in need, food donations, and ag worker protections, including PPE and support for farmers, farmers markets, and food processors to respond to COVID-19.

Specialty crop block grants

The bill provides $100 million in additional funding to support specialty crop farmers and address COVID-19 specialty crop supply chain issues at the state level via the farm bill’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program

The bill provides $75 million for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, which incentivizing purchases of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants at farmers markets and grocery retailers.

NIFA potato breeding

As advocated for by the U.S. potato industry, funding for National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) potato breeding special research grants was maintained at $2.75 million for FY21.

Prohibition on potatoes in school breakfast program 

The bill also includes a prohibition on USDA arbitrarily limiting access to healthy, budget-friendly potatoes in the school breakfast program. Now the third year that this prohibition has been included in an annual funding bill, these efforts are strongly supported by NPC and school foodservice directors across the country.

PPP tax deductibility 

The bill ensures that Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients can deduct the payroll costs and other expenses covered by forgiven loans. The action reverses a Treasury Department ruling that denied the deductions, creating the potential for a surprise tax increase of up to 37% on small businesses when they file their taxes for 2020.

“We applaud Congress for restoring vital tax treatment that family farms and other small businesses relied upon in using the Paycheck Protection Program to protect their workers’ jobs,” said NPC Vice President for Legislative and Government Affairs RJ Andrus of Idaho Falls, Idaho. “Without Congressional action, businesses would have been unduly taxed at time when they’re struggling week-to-week to survive.”

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