Deadline extended for U.S. farmers seeking federal aid from COVID-19 damage

FILE PHOTO: Soybeans are harvested from a field on Hodgen Farm in Roachdale, Indiana, U.S. November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. farmers impacted by the economic shutdown as the coronavirus hammered the global economy have more time to apply for aid from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Tuesday it is extending the deadline to apply for direct payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to Sept. 11.

The announcement came after an Aug. 7 letter from dozens of farm groups asking the agency to extend the deadline for farmers to apply.

“Many hard-working farm families have not gone through federal programs before and need help navigating their way through the process,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, in a statement reacting to the news. “We encourage the USDA to expand its outreach efforts.”

To ensure availability of funding, the USDA initially released only 80% of approved payments to farmers. But nine weeks into the program, less than half of the $16 billion allotted has been awarded. The agency said it will now pay out the nearly $1.8 billion it held back from initial payments.

The USDA also expanded the program to include 42 new crops and 15 new livestock or aquaculture classifications, including bananas, nectarines, microgreens, sheep, salmon, tilapia, nursery crops and cut flowers.

“CFAP is just one of the many ways USDA is helping producers weather the impacts of the pandemic. From deferring payments on loans to adding flexibilities to crop insurance and reporting deadlines, USDA has been leveraging many tools to help producers,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

Reporting by Christopher Walljasper; Editing by Dan Grebler