By Kayla Bergman, senior policy associate, Center for Rural Affairs
In late December, Congress passed the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020. A lot has happened in the time since, but we believe this legislation deserves a second look. As a joint COVID-19 relief and fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill, funded at $2.3 trillion, this act has strong implications in rural America.
Within the spending package, several U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs advocated for by the Center for Rural Affairs were included and funded at requested levels.
The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which serves as the lifeline for small rural businesses, received $6 million in grant and loan funds. Rural entrepreneurs in 45 states across the country have accessed the technical and financial assistance this program provides.
Also included in the package was $19.4 million for the Local Agriculture Market Program, which includes two subprograms used across rural America to process and sell local foods. Importantly, local meat processors are eligible for this program and may utilize these funds to expand their operation. This $2 million increase in funds comes at a vital time as small meat processors face a backlog accelerated by the pandemic.
Other programs included in the package were Conservation Technical Assistance, which received $734.26 million for working lands conservation in every county across the nation, and the Farming Opportunity Training and Outreach program, which received $5 million in discretionary funds, split evenly between two sub-programs that strengthen USDA’s assistance to underserved farmers, including veteran, beginning, and tribal farmers.
The Center for Rural Affairs applauds lawmakers for funding these crucial programs that keep rural America vibrant and strong.