U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today discussed how the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted America’s dependence on our agriculture producers. Thune recently introduced the Paycheck Protection for Producers Act, which would help more farmers and ranchers benefit from the Paycheck Protection Program. He also introduced the Hand Sanitizer Guidance Extension Act of 2020 to extend the FDA’s temporary ethanol-based hand sanitizer policy for at least two years, which would help fill reported shortages of hand sanitizer throughout the country during the crisis.
Excerpt of Thune’s remarks below:
“Mr. President, like most other sectors of our economy, agriculture has taken a huge hit from the coronavirus.
“The pandemic has caused significant market volatility, sending many commodity futures prices plummeting.
“Increased consumer demand for beef led to significant increases in boxed beef prices while cattle prices plummeted, which led to significant gaps between cattle producer and packer profit margins.
“And to make the situation worse, temporary closures and reduced processing capacity at U.S. meat-packing plants as a result of the virus further diminished demand for livestock and depressed prices.
“This has aggravated an already difficult situation for farmers and ranchers.
“Unlike the majority of the economy, which was thriving before the coronavirus pandemic, the agriculture economy had been struggling for a while.
“Low prices, extended trade disputes, and natural disasters had meant a tough few years for farmers and ranchers even before the coronavirus hit.
“Now things are even more challenging.
“Agriculture is the lifeblood of my state of South Dakota, so supporting farmers and ranchers during this crisis has been one of my top priorities.
“I fought to get agriculture relief money included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act – the CARES Act – which was signed into law in late March.
“The final bill included $14 billion to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation to allow the Department of Agriculture to provide income and price support for farmers and ranchers, plus an additional $9.5 billion in emergency support for agriculture producers affected by the pandemic.
“Days after the bill passed, I led a bipartisan group of senators and representatives in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging him to use a portion of the funds to provide support for hard-hit cattle producers.
“In mid-April, the Department of Agriculture responded to that letter and other petitions by announcing that it would issue $16 billion in direct payments to agriculture producers affected by the virus.
“Sign-ups for this funding began at the end of May, and as of June 8, South Dakota agriculture producers had received approximately $80 million.
“Mr. President, over the past two months, I’ve kept in constant contact with the Department of Agriculture and others to amplify producers’ concerns and urge swift relief.
“I’ve also been focused on developing additional legislation to help farmers and ranchers weather this crisis.
“Last week, I introduced legislation to allow emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres for the duration of this crisis.
“Under current law, ag producers can hay or graze their CRP acres during weather-related disasters without a reduction in their CRP payments.
“My legislation would extend that provision to cover pandemics, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Thanks to low prices and the reduction in capacity at meatpacking plants as a result of the pandemic, farmers and ranchers are having to hold onto their livestock for longer than expected.
“This bill would help ensure that they have adequate forage for their animals.
“Earlier this week, I introduced another bill, the Paycheck Protection for Producers Act, which will help more farmers and ranchers benefit from the Paycheck Protection Program.
“The coronavirus relief legislation we passed in late March established the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses to help them keep their employees on their payroll during this crisis.
“Self-employed Americans, which describes many farmers and ranchers, are eligible for these loans.
“But in practice, the program’s guidelines have excluded a lot of agriculture producers.
“Low commodity prices and a challenging planting season meant that many farmers and ranchers had a negative net income in 2019.
“And right now the program’s guidelines exclude farmers or ranchers without employees with a negative net income for last year.
“My legislation would allow more farmers to access the Paycheck Protection Program by allowing them to use their 2019 gross income instead of their 2019 net income when applying for a loan.
“I’m hoping to get both of these bills through Congress in the near future.
“Mr. President, in addition to direct relief, another thing we can do to support our nation’s agriculture producers is to support the ethanol industry.
“Ethanol and biodiesel producers buy up a significant amount of American corn and soybean oil.
“But decreased demand for fuel as a result of the coronavirus has significantly diminished this crucial market for our farmers.
“That’s why in addition to direct relief measures for farmers and ranchers, I’ve also been focused on what we can do to support the ethanol industry.
“American ethanol has stepped up to help during the coronavirus crisis by providing ethanol, or alcohol, for hand sanitizer.
“Thanks to the FDA’s “Temporary Policy for Preparation of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency,” qualifying ethanol can be used as the alcohol content in hand sanitizer.
“I imagine there are few Americans who haven’t significantly stepped up their purchase of hand sanitizer during the current crisis.
“In addition to measures like social distancing and mask wearing, frequent hand washing is key to preventing the spread of the virus.
“And when water and soap are not immediately available, hand sanitizer can step in as a substitute.
“We need a steady supply of hand sanitizer to help curtail virus transmission.
“And to help us meet this need and support our nation’s ethanol producers, today I am introducing the Hand Sanitizer Guidance Extension Act of 2020.
“Put simply, my bill will extend the FDA’s temporary ethanol-based hand sanitizer policy for at least two years.
“This will give ethanol producers that have made investments or changes in operations to meet the need for hand sanitizer a longer time to recoup their investment costs.
“I recognize that there is ongoing deliberation with the FDA about denaturants and other accepted chemical limits for hand sanitizer ethanol, and my bill would not hinder those discussions.
“My bill would simply provide ethanol producers with a baseline of certainty, while still allowing the FDA to make case-by-case approvals and to waive or reduce other requirements as necessary to meet the public health emergency.
“Now, the amount of ethanol required for hand sanitizer is just a drop in the bucket for our ethanol producers.
“And I am committed to finding additional ways to bring this clean, American-grown fuel to market.
“But every little bit helps, and this legislation will at least give a small measure of certainty to producers while helping to meet the nationwide demand for hand sanitizer.
“Mr. President, the coronavirus crisis has highlighted just how much we rely on our nation’s agriculture producers.
“I am grateful every day for their work.
“And advocating for them will continue to be one of my top priorities.
“I am committed to helping our farmers and ranchers through the challenges they’re facing and seeing our nation’s agriculture economy thrive.”