Aid and opportunity
This past week in Washington, DC, has been a mix of the mundane and the historic.
Farmers and ranchers hailed USDA’s announcement that the first round of COVID 19 economic stimulus checks hit the nation’s mailboxes — $545 million in direct payments to farmers and ranchers. The department is doggedly wading through the 86,000 applications received so far, with thousands more expected until the end-of-August deadline to apply, for a piece of the $16-billion stimulus pie controlled by USDA.
Of the amount dispersed so far, $268 million is on its way to livestock producers, $129 million is heading to dairy farmers, $140 million will shortly be in the hands of corn producers, and $8.4 million is slated for specialty crop growers. Farmers and ranchers in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin captured the largest amounts so far.
This week the Senate finally put politics aside and agreed to fix the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) generous and hence wildly popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). After several hiccups, including confusion over whether farmers and ranchers even qualified for the “loan” program which turns the dollars “loaned” into a federal grant if 75% of the loan is spent to retain or rehire workers, initial PPP funding disappeared almost overnight so badly did lawmakers underestimate the need; the second round disappeared almost as fast.
The Senate by voice vote affirmed a House-passed bill, approved early last week on a 417-1 vote, to make a couple of basic changes to PPP, but not before politically dithering for days in hopes of making traditional GOP constituents happier with the fix. The bill, expected to be signed by President Trump, gives recipients 24 weeks, rather than the current eight weeks, to spend their loans, and drops to 60% from 75% that portion of the PPP “loan” required to be spent on payroll expenses if the loan is to be forgiven. It also allows the rest of the grant to be used for workplace-related expenses, including utilities and rental/lease payments.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (ABFB), for instance, had insisted the payroll spending requirement be eliminated altogether, but acknowledged the extension of time to spend the government grant makes the program easier to handle. That’s a win-win.
None of this is historic. However, the thousands of protesters of all ages, genders and colors who flooded this city – along with nearly 150 cities and towns across America, as well as major cities around the world – following the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, allegedly at the hands of a former city police officer, is unique to a city accustomed to almost daily protests, rallies and public displays.
Next week begins the congressional, and no doubt, a White House effort, to try and not only provide direction and tools to help the country root out and repair/replace the systemic problems within law enforcement, it is supposed to jump start a desperately needed and uncomfortable discussion of societal discrimination and racial inequity in order to bring sanity and common sense to the system from the top down.
My dad used to tell us when confronted with the challenge of repairing damage born of disaster, first put out the fire, then stop talking, take a breather and honestly assess the damage. Then – and only then – gather in one room the reasonable folks you trust, who share your goal of truly fixing the problem for all parties concerned, who know their stuff and can check their personal agenda at the door, and then talk/argue/debate and talk some more until a workable solution is identified. And, he said, be prepared to be uncomfortable throughout the process.
But then we’re talking about Congress here, and it is an election year.