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Second round of WI Farm Support Program to accept applications this August

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Randy Romanski is the Governor’s new appointee as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection said the WI Farm Support Program will be issuing $10 million in payments to farmers who did not apply to the first round of the program.

DATCP Secretary-designee Randy Romanski said the application window will be August 10-24 and the application will be a similar format and structure, also administered by the Department of Revenue. He said details are still being finalized, but the program will continue to work off of 2019 tax filing information. Those who received money from the first round are not eligible to apply for the second round of aid.

The minimum income for the second round is being dropped to $10,000 in gross income for 2019, when the previous round's minimum was $35,000 in gross income. The minimum and maximum payments have not yet been determined, but they will also be on a sliding scale like before, so farms with a larger income will receive larger payments. The maximum income for program eligibility is still $5 million in gross income.

The program is doing a second round because just over half of eligible farmers applied for aid in the first round, Romanski said. Out of the $50 million pledged by Governor Tony Evers, only about $40 million was spent. 14,543 farms applied for aid, 56% of total eligible farms, and just under 12,000 of those farms have received $3,500.

The Wisconsin Farmers Union has vocalized support for the program. The group sent a letter to DATCP appreciating the lowering of the income threshold to $10,000 in gross revenue to be more inclusive of small-time farmers.

"It's critical that this state aid remain targeted at small and mid-sized farmers, who are less likely to be able to tap into federal COVID-19 response programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program, Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, and Economic Injury Disaster Loans," WFU President Darin Von Ruden said.

WFU member Michael Slattery wrote that the USDA has been helpful during these times in tying federal aid to specific commodities. The agency combined $9.5 billion in funds from the federal CARES Act and the Commodity Credit Corporation to help Wisconsin farmers during the economic crisis.

"Given the USDA-projected net loss in farm income this year, these payments are much appreciated and will at least help keep many, if not most, farmers struggling on," Slattery said. "As beneficiaries of government assistance from taxpayers, we have a responsibility to assure these funds are efficiently used, not just as our own backstop, but to improve our economy and our communities."

Food insecurity initiatives

Romanski also said requests for proposals for the DATCP Food Security and Wisconsin Products Grant are now open until 5 pm July 29. This grant will help food banks and other non-profit organizations continue to purchase locally-sourced food for food-insecure families in Wisconsin. The program is offering $10 million in payments that will be issued beginning in August. 

Grant applicants must demonstrate a commitment to purchasing and distributing a specific Wisconsin-made product. Romanski said the program is emphasizing local partnerships between food banks, food pantries, non-profit organizations and other groups interested in community service. More information is on their website.

The US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service is continuing to work with DATCP to involve Wisconsin farmers in its Farmers to Families Food Box program, Romanski added. He said AMS and DATCP are working through transparency issues in the food box program in which Romanski said Wisconsin was not well-represented in the original round.

Romanski said AMS will be offering another round of applications for the food box program in late July because there is still about $800 million left in available funding. AMS administrator Bruce Summers told Romanski that the application window will be much more open to ensure transparency, he said, and that those who were denied in the previous round may reapply.

Broadband and housing issues

Gov. Evers has also established a broadband task force that will make policy recommendations in efforts to get high-quality broadband to everyone in Wisconsin, Romanski said. He said broadband is a necessity, not a luxury, especially because Wisconsin's agriculture industry relies on it due to social distancing during the pandemic. 

Romanski also said the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority is pledging $10 million to address gaps in affordable housing across the state, especially because of the pandemic. He said WHEDA is implementing a pilot program in rural areas to identify housing needs, evaluate solution choices and implement those solutions. The program will also provide some supplemental funding based on local interests. Visit their website for more information.