Agriculture in Biden’s budget request

By XIMENA BUSTILLO 

06/01/2021 10:00 AM EDT

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CHECK, PLEASE: President Joe Biden’s full fiscal 2022 budget was released on Friday, and within his $6 trillion request is a nearly 17 percent increase in discretionary funding for the Agriculture Department, with a key focus on climate change, Helena Bottemiller Evich and yours truly report

By the numbers on climate: The Agricultural Research Service would get $192 million for work related to climate change, including for clean energy projects. Other agencies would get big boosts for climate initiatives such as Economic Research Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service.

About $40 million would fund the USDA’s 10 regional climate hubs to help farmers and ranchers adapt to and help mitigate climate change. Previously, the hubs operated without a dedicated budget.

FDA’s budget for foods and food safety would get nearly $1.2 billion, up from $1.1 billion in fiscal 2021.

On broadband: The White House seeks 10 percent boost for USDA’s three-year-old rural broadband buildout program known as ReConnect, reports Pro Technology’s John Hendel.

Equity continues to take part on the main stage of Biden’s priorities. A $6 million increase in funding would go to the USDA Office of Civil Rights. An additional $2 million is proposed for outreach and assistance for socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers.

What they’re saying: Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) applauded the plan, saying it is a positive step for farmers and rural America. 

House Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott (D-Ga.) praised the focus on rural broadband, urban ag and underserved producers. 

But Senate Agriculture ranking member Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said the budget overall is an attempt to increase government oversight. 

“This massive $6 trillion spending plan will increase our debt and deficit, raise taxes and give Washington more authority to dictate what happens in our economy and daily lives,” Boozman said in a statement.

What else to know: The request combines the various spending plans he’s rolled out including his infrastructure proposals, Pro’s Caitlin Emma notes. It also assumes a shortfall of more than $1 trillion for the next 10 years as well as a national debt that would exceed the size of the economy for the entire decade. Congress, of course, appropriates the money, and much of this is just blueprint. 

THE BOOZY PANDEMIC RULES WE WANT: Industry representatives and lobbyists for groups including restaurants are urging state lawmakers to continue some Covid-era rules including cocktails to-go, Pro’s Dan Goldberg and Sam Sutton report. Hard liquor saw some of the highest margins of any item in most restaurants, largely propelled by to-go options as restaurants’ capacity was limited. 

What the people want: Restaurant owners say they still need that lifeline even with their dining rooms now open. Polls from different states show patrons — particularly millennials — overwhelmingly approve, putting pressure on lawmakers to act. 

“The industry realized the opportunity to serve cocktails-to-go happened under extraordinary circumstances,” said Mike Whatley, vice president for state and local affairs for the National Restaurant Association, which is supporting 17 bills that allow restaurants to serve alcohol-to-go across five states. “If it goes away, it may take years before it comes back in those states.”

But, but, but: There has been pressure to more narrowly tailor the legislation to protect liquor stores from competition, and some have criticized these measures as a risk to public safety.

BANKING CEOS UNAWARE OF DEBT RELIEF LETTER: Top banking CEOs were pointedly questioned last week after a letter sent by lending groups to USDA in April warned that the upcoming debt relief to farmers of color could result in a loss of income to smaller, rural banks. While the industry groups did not come out against the debt relief, they urged USDA to revise how they planned to dole out payments. 

During a Senate banking committee hearing, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), a champion of the debt relief provision in the Covid relief package, asked each CEO to say if they agreed with the original letter.

Those who said they were not involved with the issue or had not read the letter included: Charles Scharf, CEO of Wells Fargo; David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs; Jane Fraser, CEO of Citigroup; and Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, 

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. said he did not fundamentally agree with the letter though he added that the loss of income could be an issue for smaller lenders.

James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley had also not read the letter but added: “I certainly don’t agree with discriminating against farmers.”

The American Banking Association sent another letter last week to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee clarifying they don’t oppose the payments but urge USDA to reconsider implementation. 

Payments ongoing: USDA said it will continue to roll out the congressional directive as planned and will cover the prepayment penalty for guaranteed loans — which is what banks use to compensate for potential loss of income when debt is paid off early. 

JBS USA FACES CYBER ATTACK: JBS, the Brazilian based meat processing company, found it was the target of an organized cybersecurity attack over the weekend. The company has shut its North American and Australian computer networks, Bloomberg first reported

“The company is not aware of any evidence at this time that any customer, supplier or employee data has been compromised or misused as a result of the situation,” JBS said in a statement. “Resolution of the incident will take time, which may delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers.”

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