MONTGOMERY and SCHOHARIE COUNTIES -- During a Thursday conference call with U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort sounded an alarm about its agricultural industry.
Ossenfort told Delgado that dairy farms, which make up about 90 percent of the agricultural activity in Montgomery County, were struggling well before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, the economic hardships wrought by the virus are only accelerating the already negative circumstances for many of its farmers.
"I recently spoke to one family farm looking to take out a half a million dollar loan just to keep their heads above water," he said.
Ossenfort shared a portion of a recent conversation he had with county economic developer, Ken Rose with Delgado during the call. "I actually said to my economic development director earlier, when we were discussing this, I said 'is this the end of dairy farming as we've known it in Montgomery County?' That's what we need to prevent."
Delgado conducted a town hall-style conference call Thursday evening along with Ossenfort, Montgomery County Public Health Director Sara Boerenko, Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Dutchess/Columbia, and U.S. Small Business Administration official Dan Rickman. The purpose of the call was to answer questions from residents of Delgado's 19th Congressional District, which includes the western, rural part of Montgomery County.
Much of the call was focused on how people can apply for assistance through the recently passed $2.2 trillion CARES Act.
One constituent asked Delgado if there was some way to connect farmers who are dumping agricultural products because of lack of demand with hungry people in need of food.
While Delgado said he's advocated for a disaster declaration that might enable farmers to donate food directly into emergency efforts to help feed the poor, Delgado said the erosion of the dairy market infrastructure hinders the potential for doing that.
"In the case of milk, it's not always an option to bring their product to market; if a processor closes, you know, dairy can't get their product to the market," he said. "That's the reality that I'm hearing across the district, particularly when it comes to milk dumping, which is ongoing."
Delgado discussed some of the details of the labyrinth of relief programs available through the CARES Act. Among them is one he authored, Small Business Repayment Relief Act, which includes $17 billion in relief to automatically cover six months of loan payments, including principle, interest and fees, on all current and new qualified Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.
"If you have an existing SBA loan, or a new one that you're entering into, the payment on that loan for the next six months can be waived, not deferred, waived," he said.
Another major provision in the CARES Act is the $350 billion available as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers up to $10 million in loans for small businesses and nonprofits with up to 500 employees to help cover payroll and other costs over a period of up to eight weeks, with the loans being forgiven if the business retains employees at their salary levels. Delgado said demand for this program has been so high it seems likely the funding will need to increase as part of an additional aid package.
Delgado also explained that the CARES Act also has $10 available to expand the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. The funds, which are available to small-and mid-size businesses, including startups, cooperatives, and employee stock ownership plans, will be used to provide up to $10,000 in loan advances, which allow businesses to receive an immediate, emergency advance on that loan from the SBA within three business days of applying. The advance does not need to be paid back, regardless of whether the small business owner is approved for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, which can provide loans for up to $2 million. Unfortunately, farmers are not eligible for these loans.
"We, in Congress, intended for the farmers to be included, and that's why I wrote a letter, with about 86 of my colleagues, urging that the SBA make that adjustment and utilize this disaster relief in the way that Congress intended so that our farmers could access these funds as well," Delgado said.
Ossenfort, who was particularly appreciative of Delgado's time and information on the call, said that he is counting on the Congressman to help Montgomery County residents access as much for the federal and state aid that is available to them as possible.
Those wishing to contact Rep. Delgado may call his main office in Washington, D.C, at 202-225-5614 or visit his congressional website at delgado.house.gov. The website not only lists the phone numbers to all of his district offices, but also includes links to a COVID-19 resource guide.