As it did throughout 2020, the National Cotton Council will seek any necessary COVID-19-related assistance for its members in 2021.
■ What recent actions were taken, relief provided?
The NCC engaged with congressional members and their staff to underscore the economic harm the pandemic continued to inflict on the cotton industry. We conveyed our priorities and sought relief in an omnibus bill package that Congress was negotiating.
Among specific actions was the NCC’s joining more than 110 other groups representing farmers, lenders and businesses of all sizes in a letter to House and Senate leadership urging them to immediately address the overburdensome Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness process. Just before year’s end, Congress approved and the president signed into law, a COVID relief and assistance measure that included important support for agriculture, including some cotton industry segments.
The package included for producers a $20-per-planted- acre payment on 2020 certified planted acres to all price-triggered and flat-rate commodities under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2. Both Upland cotton and extra-long staple cotton are covered under the new package. Additional funding was provided for the WHIP+ disaster assistance program.
It allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue to make payments for all approved applications for 2018 and 2019 losses, and there should be sufficient funding to allow the remaining 50% of eligible 2019 losses to be paid. Also, this funding will allow USDA to move forward with a signup period for the Quality Loss Program under WHIP+.
For textile mills/cotton users, the bill included the industry’s recommendation for a payment of 6 cents per pound (covering the March-December 2020 period). Another beneficial provision granted USDA authority to extend the marketing assistance loan term from nine to 12 months. Unfortunately, the package did not address the economic losses suffered by the merchandising segments.
The measure also extended the Economic Injury Disaster Loan grant program and extended/replenished the PPP with $284 billion in funds. It provided streamlined forgiveness of loans under $150,000 whereby the borrower signs and submits a one-page certification that requires the borrower to list the loan amount, the number of employees retained, and the estimated total amount of the loan spent on payroll costs.
It made clear for borrowers the tax deductibility of business expenses that were covered by the loan. The funds replenishment allowed for certain current borrowers to apply for a “second draw” of funds. The measure also repealed the section of previous law that required PPP borrowers to deduct the amount of their EIDL advance from their PPP forgiveness amount. More PPP and other relief package details are in NCC’s summary on our COVID-19 resources webpage, www.cotton.org/issues/members/covid19/index.cfm.
■ What about fiscal 2021 appropriations?
The omnibus package’s agriculture appropriations section provided a $2 million increase (for a total of $13.597 million) to the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service Cotton Pest Account for Boll Weevil Eradication Program support.
The measure also: 1) included level funding for USDA Agriculture Research Service Cotton Ginning Laboratories and funds for other ARS cotton research program priorities; and 2) maintained level funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program.
The NCC will continue to communicate with the new administration and 117th Congress regarding assistance (COVID-related or otherwise) that U.S. cotton may need in 2021.
Gary Adams is president/CEO of the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.