Montana Public Radio

Montana Ag Producers Say They Need More COVID-19 Relief

Jul 16, 2020

As Congress prepares to debate another stimulus package to prop up the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, farmers and ranchers are lobbying for more help.

Inside a farm shop southeast of Great Falls Wednesday industry representatives met with federal agriculture department Under Secretary Bill Northey and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines to voice their concerns.

Brett DeBruycker farms and ranches in Teton County. He says the assistance he got from the United States Department of Agriculture Coronavirus Food Assistance Program was miniscule compared to his actual need.

"There are some glaring holes that were left behind that really need to be attacked."

USDA Under Secretary Northey says the initial level of funding for direct support to farmers and ranchers during the pandemic wasn’t enough to make up for the downturn.

"I think even though we had $16 billion, which is a lot of money, that didn’t come close to covering the losses that were out there."

Grain growers say the program completely left out winter wheat. Vince Mattson is the president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, and farms just south of the Canadian border.

"I’m not gonna thank you a whole lot for the CFAP because I didn’t receive a single penny of that," Mattson said.

USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey and Sen. Steve Daines met with farm and ranch groups near Great Falls July 15, 2020 to talk about federal aid to the agriculture sector amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit Corin Cates-Carney / Montana Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican seeking re-election this year, says Congress will look at making changes to the program and replenishing its funding.

"I think we'll take a look at what we believe it's gonna be. The number willbe to be determined," he said. "But clearly, I support putting more funds back into that program, like we did with did with PPP."

PPP is the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Multiple farmers and ranchers at the gathering expressed thanks for the money flowing in from that forgivable loan program, which helps businesses keep their workers on payroll.

But others say that the program also needs some work.

The American Farm Bureau is asking Congress to make changes to PPP that could expand the number of agriculture workers who are eligible for the relief. That’s according to Nicole Rolf, the national affairs director for the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. She says that the program’s use of net income, not gross receipts, as a measure of who is or isn’t eligible, means some farms can’t tap into the program.

"And I think that’s just kind of an oversight, because agriculture is a little different than a lot of other businesses."

Sen. Daines says the federal government’s next coronavirus relief package could be on President Donald Trump’s desk by the first week of August.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is facing off against Daines in this year’s Senate race, which could play a role in deciding which political party controls the chamber.

Campaign spokesperson Sean Manning says Bullock wants the federal government to focus on getting relief to "small and medium-sized operations in the next coronavirus stimulus package to protect rural America’s way of life."