Applications for the USDA’s CFAP-2 (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2.0) closed last week on October 12th. CFAP-2 was the second round of federal funding for farmers who faced losses during the pandemic. A departure from the first iteration that focused on large-scale farmers, CFAP-2 targeted small and underserved producers through partnerships with more localized organizations to provide direct outreach and assistance.
Originally launched in October 2020, CFAP-2 included new payment options and expanded eligible crops to include row crops, wool, livestock, specialty livestock, dairy, specialty crops, floriculture, nursery crops, aquaculture, broilers, eggs, and tobacco. Since last October, CFAP-2 went through two more changes. Most notably, payments were increased in April 2021 and opportunities for contract producers were expanded in August 2021.
While the program has adapted to be both more inclusive and expansive, there are a number of gaps that need to be addressed before a third round is released. Firstly, a common issue producers ran into was the inability to qualify their value-added commodities. While it is understandable that funding cannot be based on the value-added products, the raw materials, if produced by the same farmer, should qualify for payments. Without this provision, producers of commodities such as oils, jams, and cheeses are left in the dust despite widespread supply chain disruptions for all products.
Another issue to consider is the eligibility requirement of being in operation at the time of the application. This discounts those hit hardest by the pandemic–those that had to close down their farming operations permanently as a result of the global crisis. Small-scale producers were especially vulnerable and many were forced to find different work in 2020. This rendered them ineligible for CFAP-2 and they were given no COVID relief to compensate for the financial losses to their businesses.
Lastly, the lack of in-person assistance opportunities proved to be a difficulty for both farmers as well as Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices. While the CFAP application was more streamlined than other programs, according to several FSA staff members, it was still challenging to navigate alone, especially for farmers that were first time customers of the FSA. Because most staff were working from home for the majority of the year, they were unable to sit down with farmers and walk through the application process, which is normally done to avoid errors in the application form. Complications from remote working can explain farmers’ frustrations about delayed response times and unclear instructions when working with their local FSA offices. Still, despite these challenges and the influx of emergency funding opportunities, FSA offices were able to process the majority of applications without increased staffing.
Overall, FSA offices reported that outreach efforts by third-party organizations proved to be helpful in reaching a wider audience, especially small-scale farmers who didn’t have established relationships with the USDA. Still, reaching local FSA offices directly is the best option for one-on-one assistance for federal programs like CFAP. To date, there has been over $1.3 billion disbursed in CFAP payments in California and $18 billion nationwide.
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