Agriculture Leaders Say SC Farmers and Food Banks Need $90M In COVID Assistance
When state lawmakers distribute billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 money, farmers in South Carolina could get millions of dollars in assistance.
The SC Department of Agriculture is asking for more than $90 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to assist farmers and to buy food to give to food banks, among other things.
The request is being considered by state lawmakers as they decide how to dole out $2.5 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money coming from the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden in March.
Among the agriculture department’s proposals is a $3 million program to provide food to food banks.
Earlier in the pandemic, the Department of Agriculture worked with the private sector to purchase excess product from farmers created by the closure of restaurants and schools. The food was then donated to food banks in the state.
“Additional funding would satisfy two key elements — assisting farmers as they continue to experience sales losses and a needed supply of local food to food banks,” Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers wrote in a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith.
Weathers also asked for $602,000 to replace lost revenues from seed analysis work and facility rentals that did not take place. The American Rescue Plan Act allows for states to replace revenue lost due to the pandemic.
The agriculture department also wants $20 million for a grant program to develop agricultural-related infrastructure to ensure the local food supply chain is able to operate, especially as more people demand local products.
“During COVID-19, many customers experienced food shortages, which speaks to the need for a more local and simplified food supply chain system,” Weathers wrote.
Weathers said a lack of frozen storage space, processing availability and refrigerated transportation “were a prime reason for an inability to process additional local protein.”
The Department of Agriculture also wants to spend $2.75 million to upgrade farmers market facilities in Florence and Lexington, and $4 million to advertise places to buy local products such as at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, grocery stores and restaurants.
“An aggressive media campaign across all traditional and new media platforms will provide farmers and agricultural operators a better opportunity to highlight locally grown and produced food and beverage products,” Weathers wrote.
Weathers also proposed using $20 million to replenish money paid out of contingency funds to help cover South Carolina farmers’ monetary losses in the event of economic turmoil.
“These claims leave the funds dangerously depleted and the farmers, who rely on them for protection, vulnerable to any buyers’ inability to pay for product delivered,” Weathers wrote.
The Department of Agriculture also proposed using $40 million to create a permanent farm aid program to protect farmers from losses or assist with expenses not covered by existing federal or state programs.
The resilience fund was proposed by producers in the industry because of continued market disruptions. This $40 million proposal would be for future disaster recovery.
South Carolina previously had a $40 million program to mitigate flood losses in 2016. Federal crop insurance covered only 37% of losses.
“Through all of that effort when the federal help was not available we discovered ... the state managed programs a little more efficiently ... than federal-run programs,” Weathers told a House panel last week.
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