CHICAGO/WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Friday announced a $19 billion relief program to help U.S. farmers cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, including $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers and mass purchases of produce, meat and other products.
"American agriculture has been hard-hit, like most of America, with the coronavirus, and President Trump is standing with our farmers and all Americans to make sure that we all get through this national emergency," U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said.
USDA to spend $3 billion on fresh food
The USDA in a statement said it will partner with regional and local distributors to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat to be distributed for food banks, churches and aid groups.
The agency said it will make monthly purchases totaling about $100 million each of fresh produce, dairy products and meat products. Long lines have formed at U.S. food banks in recent weeks as millions have become unemployed because of lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
The decision comes amid rising pressure from the U.S. farm lobby for government purchases as growers and ranchers struggle to get their goods to market because of disruptions caused by the pandemic, forcing some to throw out supplies.
"Having to dump milk or plow under vegetables ready to market is not only financially distressing but it's heartbreaking as well for those that produce them," Perdue said.
Direct payments will be sent "as quickly as possible" to farmers and ranchers as farm commodity producers have experienced "unprecedented losses," Perdue said.
Funding for the immediate aid program will be pulled together from a number of sources, including recent coronavirus-related aid laws passed by Congress and other funding authorities that USDA has access to, according to Perdue.
Food supply chain strained
Further details of the plan will be released at a later date, the USDA said in a statement.
Reuters reported on Monday that the USDA will spend billions in the initial phase of its plan to bolster the nation's food supply chain against the impacts of the outbreak.
Several North American beef and pork packing plants have shut down as workers have fallen ill or died from the virus.
Smithfield Foods, for example, the world's biggest pork processor, said on Sunday it would shut a U.S. plant indefinitely due to a rash of coronavirus cases among employees and warned the country was moving "perilously close to the edge" in supplies for grocers.