Iowa agriculture won’t be forgotten as we battle COVID-19

By 1st District Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer D-Iowa

There is no family or community in our great state that hasn’t been touched over the last few weeks by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic hardship that has come with it

But as I’ve held tele-townhall meetings and talked with constituents and stakeholders across the First District, I’ve noticed two things: First, Iowans are tough, and they care a heck of a lot about their neighbors and communities. And second, this crisis has taken a devastating toll on some of Iowa’s most important industries, and in ways that we might never have expected.

That includes our farmers, ranchers, and biofuels producers and we’ve got to be there for them.

That’s why as Congress continues to provide assistance for our families and small businesses, I’m fighting hard to ensure the unique needs and concerns of our agricultural sector are heard and met.

Late last month, we passed the bipartisan CARES Act, which included direct payments for families and several small-business assistance programs to help entrepreneurs pay the bills and make payroll.

For our famers and producers, the legislation provided an additional $14 billion dollars that could be used by the Commodity Credit Corporation and $9.5 billion in emergency funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help producers who have been hurt by COVID-19. It also included farmers in some of the aid available to small businesses.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced his plan to distribute that funding. Through the CARES Act, USDA will purchase some of our agriculture products-including meat and dairy-and provide it to families in need. The plan includes direct assistance for hardest hit producers, including our hog and dairy farmers and cattlemen.

But as far as I’m concerned, that’s just the beginning of our fight to keep farmers afloat during this crisis. While I’m glad that USDA has been able to get some of our farmers the help they need, there are already real concerns that these programs won’t provide enough support. There’s more work to be done.

For one, Secretary Perdue’s plan does not deliver for our biofuels producers, who have become a critical market for our corn and soybeans – not to mention an innovative alternative fuel. With fuel demand sagging everywhere and producers still feeling the effects of the Administration’s abuse of the small refinery exemption program, these plants have cut production, idling good jobs in Iowa communities and putting a squeeze on farm families. We took these concerns directly to the Secretary and he didn’t listen.

I’ve also already heard from pork producers and other farmers who are being shut out of new relief programs offered by Small Business Administration. That’s unacceptable and goes against what Congress intended. We have to fix this. We’re holding SBA accountable and making clear that Iowa’s farmers should be eligible for emergency loans. I’ll keep pushing the Administration to follow through on their promises and distribute CARES Act funding as Congress planned and in a way that actually reaches Iowans in need.

We took quick action to pass the CARES Act, but I know our work isn’t done. We need to ensure these dollars reach the Iowans who need them – and get to work on the next relief package. My office is taking feedback from Iowans on what’s needed in that package, and I’ll fight to make sure our priorities are part of the next bill.

My favorite part of this job is meeting Iowans, hearing your stories and making sure your voices are heard in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, social distancing has made that harder these last few weeks, but I’m not slowing down. I’ve talked with our local chambers about how to help our Main Street businesses, and our ag experts about how to protect our supply chains and ensure local producers are keeping our supermarkets stocked.

Some of those conversations have been emotional and difficult. I hosted a telephone-town hall last week to discuss the mental health impacts of fighting this virus. We brought in Charlotte Halverson from the AgriSafe Network to hear about the unique stresses facing farmers – and how to get help.

I’d love to hear from you, too. Please visit finkenauer.house.gov/coronavirus to provide your own input on what’s needed to continue responding to this crisis and making sure Iowans don’t fall through the cracks. I am committed to making your voices heard in Washington, D.C. – even if I have to do it from my living room here in the First District.

It’s been more than a month since our communities began to feel the strain that comes with social distancing, and I know it hasn’t been easy. For some, this last month has been among the most uncertain, unsettling and anxious times in their life.

But I’m as confident as ever that we will get through this, and we’ll get to the other side stronger, closer and more connected than ever – in our cities, in our small towns, in our factories and on our farms.