Legislators Push For Aid For Hawaiʻi Farmers

April 7, 2020, 1:44 PM HST · Updated April 7, 1:44 PM
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PC: Office of Congressman Ed Case

Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Ed Case (D-Hawaii) wrote to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue and US Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza to request their coordinated assistance for Hawaiʻi’s small agricultural producers.

The Hawaii delegation sent this letter in response to hearing frustrations from agricultural producers in navigating the assistance that was included in the third coronavirus relief package. The letter cites confusion about who is eligible for the SBA programs, what is available to the agricultural producers, and how they can apply for the relief. It also requests that SBA clear up existing confusion surrounding eligibility of agricultural businesses to access the newly created Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and expanded Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program in the relief package by aligning with Congressional intent to include producers and farmers.

“We request that SBA and USDA, both at the national level in Washington, DC as well as on the ground in Hawaii, coordinate regarding assistance made available to agricultural producers across both agencies. We also request that USDA and SBA jointly produce a single document that provides comprehensive guidance to producers on relief available to them. SBA should also provide their own clear guidance for farm businesses that may otherwise be unfamiliar with new and existing SBA programs, beyond what the agency has provided so far,” the Members write.

The Members continue, noting that “Coordination and clear communication is of paramount importance, especially to those like our small farmers that are working night and day to provide food during these challenging times.”

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The full letter is available below:

Dear Secretary Perdue and Administrator Carranza:

As your agencies work to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and implement provisions included in the CARES Act, as well as any future stimulus bills signed into law, we request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Small Business Administration (SBA) coordinate on assistance available to agricultural producers.

Hawaii’s agricultural producers are small business owners who are in need of relief during these challenging times. While many of them may be familiar with USDA programs and have existing relationships with USDA officials in Hawaii, very few are familiar with navigating SBA programs. They have found the current guidance difficult to navigate, and are asking very simple questions: who is eligible for these programs, what is available to them, and how do they go about applying for relief. They are also concerned about how applying for programs through SBA might impact their eligibility for relief from USDA and vice versa. It would be of tremendous value to our producers if SBA could leverage the existing relationships that our producers have with USDA officials by working together to provide much needed guidance to our agricultural community.

As such, for the recently signed CARES Act and any additional stimulus package going forward, we request that SBA and USDA, both at the national level in Washington, DC as well as on the ground in Hawaii, coordinate regarding assistance made available to agricultural producers across both agencies. We also request that USDA and SBA jointly produce a single document that provides comprehensive guidance to producers on relief available to them. SBA should also provide their own clear guidance for farm businesses that may otherwise be unfamiliar with new and existing SBA programs, beyond what the agency has provided so far. Such guidance should similarly include information about whether these businesses are eligible for assistance, what assistance is available, and how these businesses can apply for assistance—including SBA’s grant and loan programs. Limited guidance from SBA has caused confusion on the eligibility of agricultural businesses to receive assistance through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and we encourage SBA to align with Congressional intent within the CARES Act by making these programs available to our farmers and producers.

We understand that both of your agencies are hard at work providing assistance to many Americans across the country who have been impacted by COVID-19. Coordination and clear communication is of paramount importance, especially to those like our small farmers that are working night and day to provide food during these challenging times. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

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