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How can farmers benefit from CARES Act assistance?

President Trump signs CARES Act (Wikipedia Commons)

If you looked at this headline and came here looking for an easy answer, I am going to level with you. It is a little bit of a mess. The good news is that there are people and resources who can help you figure out the maze of paperwork and regulations you need to be aware of when you are applying for financial assistance available to farmers and ranchers through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security Act (CARES).

The first two takeaways you need to know is that this situation is ever-evolving. The state employment agencies are being told to do something they have never done before, and that is extending unemployment benefits to self-employed individuals. They just received their official guidelines from the Federal Government a little over a week ago. This is all new to them as well.

On Monday, the Farm Commons resource group held a webinar to try and explain some of these developments to organic farmers across the country. However, many of the topics are not germane to only organic agriculture. The benefits can be extrapolated to conventional agriculture as well. Rachel Armstrong is with Farm Commons. She talks a little bit about the unemployment insurance and how they have been temporarily extended to self-employed individuals.

The numbers Armstrong uses are calculated by the national average. You will have to talk with your individual states to get the numbers you can use. In Iowa, you go to the Iowa Workforce Development website. There you will find resources and answers to frequently asked questions.

Armstrong also reminds us to qualify as a farmer for unemployment benefits, you must rely on farming as your primary source of income.

What if you have a spouse who works off the farm, and their income is essential to keeping your family going? Armstrong says, “that’s okay.” You still qualify as a farmer.

Even though COVID-19 has not affected you directly, you are experiencing a loss because of it. This is where you have to be careful. You need to make sure that you are not certifying that your losses are a direct result of COVID-19 but are certified as “meeting additional criteria established by the secretary.” What does that mean? Let’s just say you sell livestock, and with the packers closing, you cannot take your livestock to market now. Then you would qualify for benefits under the CARES Act. However, if you are holding the animals until you can take them to market later, it can get a little sticky. Armstrong talks about how this scenario can play out.

The bottom line is this:

This is a new situation. It is still getting the kinks worked out as we speak. None of what we talked about should be considered a complete plan. You need to reach out to those who can help you. These consist of government agencies, state agencies, and financial institutions that can help point you in the right direction. If you do this on the fly, you may pay for it later. This is a program designed to help you, but you must use it properly.

You aren’t the only business applying. Every small business in Iowa and around the country are vying to get a piece of this Federal pie. Just in Iowa alone, 70% of small businesses have already applied for Unemployment Insurance and Paycheck Protection Program Benefits. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in Iowa estimates of the 70% that have applied, 72% of those have been approved for benefits. This is just our state. There are 49 others. The territories of the U.S. are also included in these benefits. There is a lot of competition. Don’t wait too long. Start the process now and see what is available for you.

Above all else get help. Here are some resource links for you:

Iowa Workforce Development

USDA COVID-19 Resource Guide

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

The United States Department of Labor has links to other resources in your state. They also have other COVID-19 resources to help your business.

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