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Torres Small: Ag industry not getting funds quickly enough

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New Mexico farmers and ranchers were at a big disadvantage when it came to one of the Small Business Administration’s coronavirus relief loan programs, says a New Mexico congresswoman.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-Las Cruces, of the 2nd Congressional District said the guidance to verify that ranchers and farmers were eligible for the $349 billion Payroll Protection Program that launched April 3 was not available until a few days before the funding ran out on Wednesday.

“I want to make sure that we have the right guidance to make sure that New Mexico gets its fair share because the slow guidance out of the gate really harmed New Mexico,” Torres Small said Thursday.

She said she has received many calls from ranchers and farmers who are struggling to keep their livestock alive and operations going. She said it is vital that more funding be allocated but also that clear federal guidance is available immediately.

She noted that New Mexico only received $1.3 billion of the $349 billion in the PPP original fund and gave two examples of how the lack of clear guidelines hurt those in the agricultural industry.

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She said she was called by a rancher that had just received the go-ahead to apply for the PPP and then learned there were no more funds. Similarly, a lender that specializes in farm and ranch loans didn’t receive verification of being able to participate until right before the SBA announced that funds had been depleted, she said.

“It is deeply important that we get more money, that we do it quickly and that we have the right guidance so that New Mexico gets its fair share,” Torres Small said.

She could not say how quickly additional funding might come or how much money might be made available. The Trump Administration has requested an additional $250 billion for the program, but Congress will not be back in session to decide on a bill until next week.

Torres Small also said there has been too long of a delay in getting money to dairies and other agricultural producers from other funding aspects of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law March 27.

A $2 trillion funding bill that included many different programs, including the PPP loans, the CARES Act also allocated $9.5 billion for agricultural producers, including dairies.

Another $14 billion went to the Commodity Credit Corp. run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among other things, the CCC serves as a financial safety net when agricultural prices drop and markets are disrupted.

But as of Thursday, none of that funding had been released.

A member of the House Agricultural Committee, Torres Small said she has been told by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue that at least the first tranche of funding should be released Friday or early next week.

“I know dairy farmers are staying up at night to figure out how to keep their operations going,” Torres Small said. “They have to keep producing this milk, but they need money to keep their cows alive and keep things going. I know they are staying up late at night because I am getting texts and calls with people asking when they are going to get this money.”

She said about $2 billion of the CARES agricultural funding should be available in the first release of funding to purchase dairy and agricultural commodities.

“There would be money to cut production, but also money to purchase dairy and produce so that we can get some of that food into our food banks because we also have people who are hungry right now,” Torres Small said. “So we should be able to get food to people.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.