President Donald Trump on Friday announced a $19 billion financial rescue package to help the agriculture industry weather the staggering economic downturn sparked by measures to defeat the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the United States on Friday passed 700,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
Trump told a press conference the government “will be implementing a $19 billion relief program for our great farmers and ranchers as they cope with the fallout of the global pandemic.”
The program will include direct payments to farmers, ranchers and producers who Trump said have experienced “unprecedented losses during this pandemic.”
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said US farmers have been hit hard by a sharp shift in demand, as schools and restaurants close and more Americans eat at home.
That has disrupted the food supply chain, forcing farmers in many places to destroy dairy output and plow under crops that no longer have buyers.
“Having to dump milk and plow under vegetables ready to market is not only financially distressing, but it’s heartbreaking as well to those who produce them,” Perdue said.
Perdue said some $3 billion of the money would go to buying produce and milk from such farmers, and redistribute it to community food banks.
Millions of Americans have recently turned to food pantries for meals and groceries after losing their jobs.
The US farm and food industry has been hit in numerous ways by the coronavirus epidemic.
Farmers are having trouble finding seasonal laborers to prepare and harvest crops; some meatpacking plants have been hit hard by COVID-19 outbreaks.
But the change in the way consumers eat has had a huge impact.
“Shuttered schools, universities, restaurants, bars and cafeterias are no longer buying milk, meat, fruits, vegetables and other food, causing a downward spiral in crop and livestock prices,” the American Farm Bureau said recently.
Perdue praised farmers, who have enjoyed billions of dollars in support payments over the past two years due to the impact of Trump’s trade war with China, as “heroic.”
“Our farmers have been in the fields planting and doing what they do every spring to feed the American people, even with a pandemic, as we speak.”
With the highest number of cases and deaths of any country in the world, the US had recorded 700,282 cases of COVID-19 and 36,773 deaths as of 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Friday), according to the Baltimore-based university.
That marked an increase of 3,856 deaths in the past 24 hours, but that figure likely includes “probable” virus-linked deaths, which had not previously been counted.
This week, New York City said it would add 3,778 “probable” virus deaths to its official count.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave a toll Friday night of 33,049 dead, including 4,226 probable virus-linked deaths.
The United States has seen the highest death toll in the world in the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of Italy (22,745 deaths) although its population is just a fifth of that of the US.
Spain has recorded 19,478 deaths, followed by France with 18,681.