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Welcome to Episode 38 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast.
This special episode features a one-on-one conversation with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (on April 27, 2020), regarding current and future COVID-19 relief through the federal government.
Watch for our next regularly-scheduled episode of The Spokesman Speaks podcast on Monday, May 4.
- Click here to view the transcript +
Narrator: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast from Iowa's leading agricultural new source brought to you by the Iowa Farm Bureau. Now here's your host.
Zach Bader: Welcome to the April 27th edition of The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. I'm Zach Bader and we appreciate you tuning in for this special episode featuring U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. Typically we're in between episodes right now, but when senior Senator calls in for a one on one discussion about COVID-19 relief for farmers, you break the mold and get that news out to farmers as quickly as possible. Of course, if you're already a subscriber to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, you were the first to know about this exclusive interview. If not, you can find us in your favorite podcast app and subscribe to never miss a future episode. So what does Senator Grassley have to share about current and future COVID-19 assistance through the federal government? Spokesman Editor Dirck Steimel has the story.
Dirck Steimel: We're here with Iowa Senator Charles Grassley to visit about issues facing Iowa farmers and others in agribusiness during that COVID-19 pandemic crisis and about efforts by the federal government to help. Good afternoon Senator. We visited a little bit, but how are things going on your farm?
Senator Chuck Grassley: 95% of the corn is in as of Saturday and probably could finish today or tomorrow and then immediately start beans and pretty good condition. I've been in my farm house and not leaving the neighborhood for four weeks now and I'm anxious to get back to Washington and work on the country's problems and try to get this country back to normal. Hopefully it'll be announced that we'll go in next Monday and I hope that's the case. This is the first pandemic the United States has been through in a hundred years and probably not the only one, but it's different from this standpoint that this is the first time the governments have shut down the economy and I think we have a responsibility to get it going again. And you've seen some of our actions we take to do that, but I have great hope about the future of our country and getting back to normal and get the economy back and particularly helping the really detrimental impact it has on agriculture. I enjoy working with Governor Reynolds and Naig and Senator Ernst on these issues as well. What can I do now in the way of speaking specifically about some things you're interested in?
Dirck Steimel: Well, thank you Senator. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently announced the broad outline for assistance to farmers through the CARES Act. Do you have any more details on how those payments will be structured and when farmers could see them?
Senator Chuck Grassley: The point is that I don't have the details I think that you're going to want. I've had conversations with him on this subject and trying with a question that I started my conversation with him about a week ago. When's the money going to get out? And he's just cautious in saying by June the first. There's problems that we have with software writing regulations for livestock that's never been handled before. But I don't have details. And I don't know they're fully worked out yet. But the $19 billion that's in the CARES Act is going to go out. Maybe not soon enough, but it's going to get out.
Dirck Steimel: And what have you been doing besides basically working with the administration to address farmers' concerns and their need for payment sooner rather than later? Have you been working on that?
Senator Chuck Grassley: Yeah, I've had conversations with Trump a week ago Saturday night. Pence a week ago yesterday afternoon on Sunday. Three or four conversations with Pence that have been one on one or with other senators involved on a couple occasions. Chief of Staff of the President Meadows. I've had conversations with Bill Northey about it, but more importantly, just representing the constituents. I've had to have telephone conversations from the farm here cause you can't go to any of these meetings more than 10 people. Iowa Cattlemen, Iowa Pork Producers, independent producers, local farmers I've talked to. And it's necessary to get all that information. I've even had discussions with bankers and then a nonagricultural way, we've had telephone conversations with hospital people. Now I'm talking about maybe these are big conference calls that maybe you'd have a hundred or in one case a thousand people listening in. But with Chambers of Commerce in three or four cities, with hospital people. The problem that we have, and I know you're reporting on agriculture, but it touches almost every facet of our economy, not only in Iowa but in the nation as a whole. And all I can say to people is I'm going to try to get what you need in the way of helping farmers, hospitals, et cetera. But all I can say is I want to first of all get a message of hope out there because I actually think as bad as this is, even though this is very unique, shutting down the economy, I do think that we have been through worse things than this and we'll get through them before. And I think in agriculture, farmers losing their farms in the 1980s, I hope that's not repeated, but we got through that. The only thing is you end up with less farmers farming. And that's a sad situation because people love to farm as I've loved the farm since 1960.
Dirck Steimel: Senator, a big issue in Iowa and of course is the closing or the slowdown in meat production plants, especially for farmers who have cattle and hogs ready to go to market. What do you think can be done to make sure that meat plants can stay open while and continue processing pork and beef, while still protecting workers?
Senator Chuck Grassley: Well, I think the main one is to have confidence for workers if they will come to work because you just can't take people off the street and immediately start cutting up a hog. Confidence that it's going to be a safe place to work. This was part of my conversation with Chief of Staff Meadows Saturday night. And he said he had just signed, I guess you'd say he signed off on an executive order probably coming from the CDC with protocols so these companies would now only be encouraged to get back to work, but would get back to work. We can't have a situation where you can't slaughter hogs when there's such a precise and sophisticated process from the birth of a baby pig to a finishing barn, to the slaughterhouse, to your mouth. And when one pigs died, there's another one being born that's going to be four and a half to five months going to go back to market and so we got to keep it going not only for the benefit of agriculture but for the benefit of the consumer and with 25% of our capacity closed down it seems to me that that is a major problem. And then you get into these issues of depopulating and I was glad to know that it looks like APHIS in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's on top of it, and I know Mike Naig is on top of it. They're both working with the Iowa Pork Producers Association to stand up or response center for farmers who have questions about where to take their hogs, whether it's finding a processing plant that's open, taking hogs, sadly to say to a rendering plant or just plain euthanizing them. We're assured that there's going to be veterinarians and industry experts available to assist Iowa farmers in this process of making very bad decisions about what to do if you can't get them to a slaughter plant.
Dirck Steimel: Senator, another area of Iowa agriculture that's very important is ethanol of course, and that's been hurting because people aren't driving as much and that's hurting corn farmers, hurting livestock farmers. Do you think that anything can be done through the federal government or any programs to help ethanol producers?
Senator Chuck Grassley: Well, let me tell ya, ethanol doesn't get the attention it has to have in Washington, D.C. Because it seems like it falls on Governor Reynolds and Ernst tonight to carry the ball for the 14 states that are big corn producing states. And I don't mean that those senators don't do a lot to help us, but it seems to me like it falls to the three of us in Iowa to carry the weight for ethanol. Now that maybe that's a justified, because we're the number one ethanol producing state in the nation and we got 43,000 workers, I think in that industry that are probably not being paid today. So I'm going to start with this because you hear more about oil than you do ethanol. If there's any help for oil, there's gotta be help for biofuels. Now, when we were a month ago doing the CARES Act, oil was after two things, money for the specific petroleum reserve, and also to cut red tape to get a pipeline for oil someplace in the Eastern States where I think environmentalists were holding it up. So I said mostly to Secretary Minutian because he was the one working back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. I said, if you're going to do something for petroleum, we got to do something for ethanol. So that was two amendments dealing with a Renewable Fuel Pipeline program that would be a loan guarantee for that. And a feedstock reimbursement program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So there wasn't anything in the CARES Bill for oil. So we never got anything for ethanol. But let me repeat. If there's any help in the future for oil, there's gotta be help for biofuels. And it might be along the same of what I just said, but I had a conference call with ethanol people and I asked for any other ideas that they might have. And the question is, will there be more help coming from the federal government? Probably so, but I can't predict for sure if there's going to be a phase four, but I think there's apt to be.
Dirck Steimel: That kind of leads into my next question about the CARES Act. Do you believe that the CARES Act has enough provisions in it for farmers that it's sufficient? Or do you think they'll, Congress will come back and try to do some more things?
Senator Chuck Grassley: Before the plants shut down and we may have to depopulate hogs and have a total loss I thought maybe $19 billion was a lot of money. I think if you're going to get rid of hundreds of thousands of fat hogs that it's going to take a lot more money than the 19 billion. In fact, I think where we are now with livestock, you could leave the grain farmers out and I believe livestock could take the full $19 billion.
Dirck Steimel: Farmers and everyone else's eggs just to get the country and the economy going again. Do you have any more insight on when we might be able to sort of get things going again? Is it going to be a state by state thing or will the federal government put out some guidelines?
Senator Chuck Grassley: I think it ought to be a state by state thing. I don't think the entire country should wait till New York gets opened up. I do think that the 50 different governors in 50 different ways opening up their state that they ought to follow the president's guidelines. I believe that the governor today is one of the few days I haven't watched Governor Reynold's news conference, but I think she announced some opening beginning May the first and then later on a little more opening some businesses opening up, but maintaining distance and all the precautions that you ought to have. And I just hope that we don't have some showing that it was a wrong decision, for instance, in Georgia to open up the way they did. I think people are learning a lot. Going to be pretty cautious and not only for their own health, but I think for the health of everybody else. I think Americans kind of know we're all in this together and I hope we can get, I hope our kids can go to school this September 1st. I hope our universities and colleges can open up. Maybe with some restrictions. I don't know whether we can have football games this fall or not, but I sure hope so. I'd like to see some baseball before the summer's out. We'll just have to take it a step at a time. And those steps at a time will be done 50 different ways.
Dirck Steimel: Senator, last week, Congress passed new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. Will that be helpful for farmers, do you think?
Senator Chuck Grassley: Yes, farmers can qualify for that. All farmers are eligible for the program and we know that especially for small business and farmers who have employees, it's a very essential program for them. In the legislation passed last week, farmers were also made eligible for another SBA program called the Disaster Loan Program. The emergency grants are limited to $1,000 per employee, but up to a maximum of $10,000. And that's administered by the Small Business Administration. Probably a little more complicated than just filling out the one page form now and you take it to your local banker and you can get approved pretty fast now. I've heard some people having problems, but I guess it's a very small percentage. Most of the people were having problems were hit by the fact that that we thought $350 billion was enough a month ago and by April 17th, the money had all run out. And then you get back to where we were last week when the Senate passed it by unanimous consent and the House passed it almost unanimously another $310 billion is out there plus I think about $60 billion in this program that I called the Disaster Loan Program in SBA.
Dirck Steimel: One last thing. The pandemic has increased demand at the Iowa food banks. We've seen that. Are there ways or are you encouraged that the federal government can help food banks so that we can make the connection with farmers and food bank so they can address those needs?
Senator Chuck Grassley: Particularly when we have this over supply and low prices. Two ways, making sure that farmers have little more income as a result of the government buying when consumers are buying less and the economy slowed down, plus the consumer having some certainty of food supply. And for those that income isn't enough and food stamps isn't enough, then the food bank's very important. And I compliment today's announcement by Naig and Governor Reynolds that they're opening up something called the 'Pass the Pork' program where Iowa pig farmers in conjunction with the pork producers will donate pigs to the Iowa food bank feeding programs. That's very important. It's sure better than depopulating hogs when there's people that need it. And the reason why, not only income for people to buy food, but food stamps if they don't have enough income. And three, if those two don't provide enough food, it's very important that we don't let happen. What the old wives tale has often said that people are only nine meals away from rioting. And you could imagine how people go to the malls on Black Friday after Thanksgiving and they're fighting with each other to buy some fancy technical product that's on sale, brand new, getting it at a lower price. You can imagine if people are, kids are starving, what they might be doing to get food. And that also speaks to the importance of the 2% of the people that are farmers producing for the other 98% and hopefully not only out of this we maintain the family farmer, but we're also building respect for farming on the part of the consumers that don't know much about agriculture. Cause I always say a lot of people think food grows in supermarkets not on farms. If I could close with this, I want people to know that even though Congress isn't and functioning as an institution, my office in Washington's closed down, but all of my staff is working diligently from home and you can get ahold of us in the usual ways you would if things were normal. And I've been at the farm four weeks and two days now and I want to get back to Washington and do the people's business. In the meantime, I try to conduct all the business that I have to do through my own voice and time the way I have with you, Dirck and I thank you and the Iowa Farm Bureau for fighting for American farmers.
Zach Bader: We'd like to thank Senator Grassley for sharing his latest insights with us for today's podcast. Of course, we'll continue to follow the COVID-19 stories that matter to Iowa agriculture in the weekly Spokesman newspaper in future podcast episodes and on Iowafarmbureau.com so we hope that you'll stay tuned in for those. And just a reminder that our next podcast episode is on May 4th. That episode will include an update from Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill, who has been participating in COVID-19 listening sessions with farmers around the state. So we'll be discussing what's being revealed by those sessions and we'll have Dr. Dan Thompson who's the host of RFD TV's nationally televised Doc Talk program and he's the new chair of the Animal Science department at Iowa State university. So subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks in your favorite podcast app to catch that episode and all of the stories that we'll be bringing you in the weeks to come. Until next time, I wish you and your family a safe and successful week of planting. Thanks for reading The Spokesman and thanks for listening to The Spokesman Speaks.
Narrator: Thank you for listening to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from The Spokesman at IowaFarmBureau.com/Spokesman. You can also find and subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at Podcast@ifbf.org.
About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast
Since 1934, The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or Radio.com.
We typically release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 39 will be released on May 4, 2020.