Coronavirus Food Assistance Program Open for Applications

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On May 21, the USDA published its final rule implementing the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program [CFAP]. CFAP is designed to “provide producers with financial assistance that helps offset sales losses and increased marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.” Let’s go over the eligibility requirements.

First, the impacted food must be eligible. Eligible non-specialty crops are malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers, durum wheat, and hard red spring wheat. For specialty crops, the USDA does not provide an exhaustive list, but instead gives a few examples of crops that would qualify: almonds, beans, broccoli, sweet corn, lemons, iceberg lettuce, spinach, squash, strawberries, and tomatoes. Also eligible is dairy, cattle, lambs, and hogs. Aquaculture and nursery crops (like cut flowers) are in the eligibility pipeline.

Second, to qualify for CFAP funds, the producer needs to suffer the kind of loss recognized by the USDA. One way of showing a recognizable loss is to document a price loss of 5% or more during a certain period of time. For specialty crops (like tomatoes and squash), this means looking at the average price for the sales week of January 13-17, and then looking at the average for the week of April 6-10. If the sales price from this special week in January drops five percent or more in this special week in April, the produce is eligible for CFAP relief. The final rule contains special provisions for specialty crops that spoil after they ship and even before they “left the farm” if the spoilage or lack of harvest is “due to loss in marketing channels.” So if crops spoil or go unharvested due to the closing of restaurants, schools, and farmers’ markets, those crops may still be covered.

Third, general Farm Service Agency (FSA) requirements apply. This means crops grown on land classified as “highly erodible” or “wetland conservation” will not qualify.

Fourth, be a U.S. Citizen, a U.S. Corporation, a foreign entity owned by Americans, a Native American organization, or a foreign person. But the foreign person is only eligible if the person provides land, capital, and at lest “400 hours of active personal labor or active personal management.”

If you are eligible, you should apply as soon as possible. Applications opened on May 26. Funding limits will likely determine the end point of applications. To apply, send a completed application by mail, email, or fax to your local FSA office. The local FSA office has the application forms. Supplemental documentation, like certificates of compliance with adjust gross income limitations and conservation activities, are due 60 days from the date the application is signed.

This program is not perfect. Its shortcomings are documented extensively by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. But one problem-limits on funding-is surmountable for growers who apply early. So consider applying now.

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