How stim­u­lus money will go to tobacco farmers' pock­ets

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE - CHICAGO -AP

US gov­ern­ment aid pay­ments to tobacco farmers will be chan­neled through a new ac­count within the of­fice of the agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary, an un­usual move that by­passes the nor­mal mech­a­nism for dis­tribut­ing farm aid and stokes con­cerns about how the gov­ern­ment is us­ing COVID-19 stim­u­lus.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) on Fri­day said it will pay up to $100 mil­lion to tobacco farmers from Congress' coro­n­avirus eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age, as part of a $14 bil­lion as­sis­tance pro­gram for farmers hurt by the pan­demic.

The pay­ments would ben­e­fit farmers in North Carolina, a swing state in the Nov. 3 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and the coun­try's top tobacco pro­ducer. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den are locked in a dead heat among likely vot­ers in North Carolina, ac­cord­ing to a Reuters/Ip­sos opin­ion poll re­leased on Tues­day. The ex­is­tence of the new USDA ac­count has not been pre­vi­ously re­ported. In re­sponse to ques­tions from Reuters this week, USDA said there was noth­ing wrong with the new ac­count - which it orig­i­nally set up this spring - and said it has taken steps to track the flow of funds.

The agency opened the new ac­count be­cause of how Congress ap­por­tioned money from the Coro­n­avirus Aid, Re­lief, and

Eco­nomic Se­cu­rity (CARES) Act passed in March and to sim­plify the process of pay­ing farmers, a USDA rep­re­sen­ta­tive said.

Law­mak­ers typ­i­cally ap­por­tion emer­gency funds to an agency and ex­ist­ing ac­counts set up at the di­vi­sion that would han­dle a pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to agri­cul­tural and gov­ern­ment an­a­lysts. Groups in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion and Cam­paign for Tobacco-Free Kids were dis­mayed that aid meant for Amer­i­cans strug­gling with fall­out from a deadly lung dis­ease was ear­marked for tobacco.

Most U.S. crop sub­si­dies are paid via the 1930s-era Com­mod­ity Credit Cor­po­ra­tion (CCC), which gives USDA broad au­thor­ity to make di­rect pay­ments to grow­ers when crop prices are low.

How­ever, a 2004 law known as the tobacco buy­out blocked tobacco grow­ers from re­ceiv­ing CCC funds. The USDA says the tobacco money will not come from CCC.

In­stead, the agency said in re­sponse to ques­tions from Reuters that the $2.3 tril­lion CARES Act gave it the au­thor­ity - and a dif­fer­ent pool of tax­payer dol­lars - to is­sue the tobacco aid. In a state­ment to Reuters, USDA said that if Congress wanted to block tobacco farmers from this money, it would have specif­i­cally ex­cluded them in the law. Some eco­nomic and le­gal ex­perts said the 2004 law elim­i­nated the gov­ern­ment's role in fund­ing tobacco price sup­ports and worry the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is not be­ing trans­par­ent. "The re­al­ity is that Congress would have to ex­plic­itly au­tho­rize pay­ing tobacco farmers," said Jonathan Coppess, di­rec­tor of the Gardner Agri­cul­ture Pol­icy Pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois, and a for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

Tobacco was not in­cluded in the first round of coro­n­avirus aid for farmers an­nounced in April. Law­mak­ers sub­se­quently spoke with USDA about crops left out of the $19 bil­lion pro­gram, such as cher­ries, olives and raisins, ac­cord­ing to USDA, and leg­isla­tive and in­dus­try sources. Law­mak­ers and staff from to­bac­co­pro­duc­ing states in­clud­ing North Carolina and Ken­tucky pro­vided feed­back, leg­isla­tive sources said.


Alexan­der Lukashenko takes the oath of of­fice as Be­laru­sian Pres­i­dent dur­ing a swear­ing-in cer­e­mony in Minsk, Be­larus.

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