Press Release

As Family Farms Face Economic Crisis Due To COVID-19 Outbreak, Gillibrand Announces Landmark Legislation To Provide Direct Relief

Apr 13, 2020

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, announced landmark legislation, The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act, to provide economic relief for small farmers suffering from massive financial losses due to reduced demand and supply chain disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, farm bankruptcies are at an eight year high and net farm income has dropped by nearly half since 2013. The financial struggles of more than 30,000 New York farmers has only been exacerbated by the current crisis, which has devastated supply chains, as schools and restaurants have been forced to close. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act will alleviate debt, keep farms open, and fortify the nation’s food supply, providing direct relief to the nation’s most vulnerable farmers.

“New York farmers are struggling and the coronavirus outbreak has pushed many into insurmountable debt,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The CARES Act does not go far enough to sustain small farms through this difficult time; they need urgent and direct loan forgiveness so they can continue maintaining operations, paying their workers, and keeping food on Americans’ tables. I’m proud to introduce this legislation that will go directly to the farmers who need it most, and I will fight to include this legislation in an upcoming stimulus package to make certain our farmers are not left behind.” 

Family farms received minimal benefits through SBA under the CARES Act and have struggled to access emergency federal farm aid which was allocated to USDA in the same coronavirus response package. These measures are not nearly enough to support small farms and keep them operating throughout the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act would directly address this crisis by providing a one-time debt forgiveness of up to $250,000, across three types of USDA FSA loans: Direct Farm Operating, Direct Farm Ownership, and Emergency Loans. All small farms with an average adjusted gross income of up to $300,000 for the previous five years will be eligible, regardless of their commodities. Additionally, while many debt relief programs exclude farmers from future benefits, the legislation would ensure that farmers who receive debt forgiveness or write-downs maintain their eligibility for further USDA Direct and Guaranteed loans. It would also ensure that farmers receive the full relief by making the forgiveness nontaxable. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act will help nearly 40,0000 farmers get back on their feet by providing a one year window to apply for debt relief and will keep them farming for at least two years after receiving the loan forgiveness.  

New York is home to one of the most diverse agricultural industries in the country and is largely composed of small and medium-sized family operations. However, even before the coronavirus outbreak, farmers across New York and the country faced economic hardship caused by tight margins, growing debt, natural disasters, and an unstable trade market. Over the years, farm bankruptcies have continued to rise, with many small farms just one natural disaster or bad farm season away from bankruptcy. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has become the bad season they feared, as closed schools, restaurants, farmers markets, have disrupted the nation’s food supply and devastated revenue streams for farmers in New York State. 

Dairy is the New York’s primary agricultural product, yet farmers have been forced to dump between 25 million and 35 million pounds of milk while prices plummet and processing plants close in response to COVID-19. Additionally, produce growers across the country who have been recently unable to sell their product, are now worrying about the possibility of entire harvests being wasted in coming months if they lack access to labor to harvest. The current problems are compounded by years of financial hardship which has led to an average of 12,000 farmers leaving the farming business between 2011 and 2018. This financial distress has damaged rural mental health and contributed to the growing epidemic of farmer suicides in the United States. The Relief for America’s Small Farmer’s Act would help put farms back on the path to economic stability, while ensuring that relief is provided directly to the farmers that need it most.

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Gillibrand has prioritized support for farmers throughout the crisis caused by COVID-19. In addition to announcing the Relief for America’s Small Farmer’s Act, Senator Gillibrand has called on the administration to support dairy producers and provide assistance under the CARES Act for local food producers who have experienced losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act has been endorsed by leading farm and agriculture advocacy organizations:  

“For more than six years, farmers and ranchers across the country have endured catastrophic price declines, volatile trade disputes, historic natural disasters, and now unprecedented challenges sparked by COVID-19. At Farm Aid, we hear everyday from farmers who struggle to endure these threats to their livelihoods, homes, and land, so many of whom are left out of federal farm policy. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act provides much needed and well-deserved debt relief for the farmers and ranchers who continue to feed us, steward our land, and bolster our local economies. These are the very farmers who are selflessly galvanizing to bring fresh, healthy food to communities in need during today’s crisis. Farm Aid is grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership in supporting the diverse small farms of America, and we will do everything we can to ensure passage of this bill so that no farmer loses their farm or home from this unprecedented moment.” – Alicia Harvie, Advocacy & Farmer Services Director at Farm Aid

“To address the current COVID-19 pandemic Congress must act in two ways, first to end the crisis as quickly as possible by passing legislation that supports the pressing needs of the public and secondly, by making sure any legislation also looks to the longer-term challenge of  economic recovery and establishing a more sustainable rural economy.

The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act begins that process by focusing on the oppressive debt of family scale farmers and ranchers — producers who have struggled for years in an increasingly concentrated agriculture sector, and whose local markets recently have been impacted by COVID-19. In this moment of crisis, debt forgiveness is critical support for small-scale producers struggling to ‘bridge the gap’ until markets like restaurants and institutions can reopen, and in the long term can act as a down payment toward strengthening local food systems that can revitalize rural communities.” – Jim Goodman, Board President of the National Family Farm Coalition

“Trade wars, market consolidation, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters have made farms more vulnerable than at any time in the last 30 years. Small farms have been especially impacted by these factors. This legislation was important before the COVID-19 outbreak, but now is an essential lifeline. The most rapid way to ease the financial pressures on those farmers who are most at risk is forgiveness of USDA direct loan debt.” – Edna Rodriguez, Executive Director of Rural Advancement Foundation International, USA (RAFI-USA)  

“In this very challenging moment for farmers and ranchers across the United States, this bill offers debt relief to small producers who are diligently working to feed their communities. It provides a major step towards financial stability for the next generation in agriculture and a way to keep them on the land and in production.” – Sanaz Arjomand, Federal Policy Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition.

“Family farmers, particularly minority and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, play a critical role in preserving rural communities. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act is a way to advance the intent of Congress to protect all family farmers during this time of crisis.” – Rural Coalition Chairperson John Zippert. 

Full text of the legislation can be found here.