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Klobuchar, Hoeven among several senators telling USDA farmers need help during COVID-19

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., talks with local farmers about progress on the farm bill in Washington during a roundtable discussion Friday in East Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., talks with local farmers about progress on the farm bill in Washington during a roundtable discussion Friday in East Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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ST. PAUL -- U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., are urging the Trump Administration to support rural America during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for farmers who produce the nation's food supply.

In a Friday, April 3 letter and co-signed by 30 bipartisan others, -- including U.S. Sens. Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., John Thune, R-S.D. and Mike Rounds, R-S.D. -- the U.S. senators asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to provide "needed to relief to farmers" as the coronavirus spreads across the nation and wrecks havoc on the U.S. economy.

“Americans always depend on our nation’s farmers to grow the food, fuel, and fiber that we all need, but that reliance becomes much more pronounced in times of crisis,” the senators wrote.

The senators asked Perdue for longterm flexibility on Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans for the duration of the pandemic and its aftermath, and by providing "equitable access to credit during this period of market uncertainty." They also suggested deadline extensions, loan payment deferrals and forbearance and pending foreclosures -- measures that they said are "are critical to avoiding disruption in the country’s food supply chain.”

"As you know, farmers across the country have faced many challenges in the past several years," the senators wrote. "The coronavirus pandemic is now causing additional disruptions, driving further declines in market conditions, prices, and export demand, and some experts believe that the consequences of the pandemic could hit rural communities particularly hard."

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Prior to the letter in a Thursday conference call, Klobuchar said she is especially focused on the virus's impact on rural areas because they are "starting to see this in a big way." She pointed to Martin County in southern Minnesota where three have died of the virus. In neighboring South Dakota, rural Beadle County has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the state.

"Once this gets there, it's going to be very hard," she said. "We need farmers harvesting the land. We need to have our food supply. We’re going to need to have rural America functioning."

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by coronavirus. As of Friday, 789 Minnesotans, 187 South Dakotans and 173 North Dakotans have tested positive for the virus.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at smearhoff@forumcomm.com or 651-290-0707.
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