Bipartisan bill would allow farmers to pay rent with PPP

Iowa farm with barn, silo and tractor
Farmers could use an expanded federal loan program to pay rent under legislation proposed July 16. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer on Thursday introduced legislation to allow farmers to use money from a key pandemic-related federal aid package to pay for rentals of equipment, land and buildings. 

The Expanding Assistance to Farmers Act of 2020, co-sponsored by Congressman Dan Bishop, R-North Carolina, would clarify the rules governing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is aimed at helping small businesses continue to operate. 

U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer is a Democrat who represents Iowa’s 1st District. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Abby Finkenauer’s office)

Finkenauer, an Iowa Democrat, chaired a Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade and Entrepreneurship (RATE) subcommittee forum in May. During that session, dairy farmer Rick Ebert of Burnsville, Pennsylvania, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, noted that federal guidance to agricultural operations has been piecemeal, and rural lenders have been slow to approve loans. 

PPP is a forgivable loan program created to help small businesses recovering from the economic slowdown caused by the the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our family farmers and producers are small businesses, too, and there’s no reason they should be concerned about whether they can use their small business aid to cover some of their basic business expenses,” Finkenauer said in statement. “Whether they’re located on Main Street or down a dirt road, we must stand up for our small businesses and help them through this historic crisis.”

Finkenauer, a first-term congresswoman who faces Republican state lawmaker Ashley Hinson in the November election, said the legislation is bipartisan and a “common sense” move. 

Ashley Hinson is a Republican running for Iowa’s 1st District House seat. (Campaign photo)

In an interview, Michael Dolsch, director of public affairs for the Iowa Soybean Association, said ISA just learned of the legislation and doesn’t have an official position on it. However, generally speaking, the legislation looks like a good way to help farmers with some of their biggest expenses, he added. 

“PPP has been a lifeline for farmers,” Dolch said. “Expanding PPP would allow them to focus on their day-to-day operations.” 

Bill Menner, a consultant on community development and rural issues, said the legislation “seems to make sense.” He added that allowing farmers to use the loans more broadly would be just another in a series of changes as the program has evolved.

“The more we work with the program, the more we learn about its limitations,” said Menner, former state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development section in Iowa. “You have to be nimble.”

In a statement, Rep. Bishop said the legislation would mean farmers in hard-hit North Carolina and elsewhere “can use the funds for what they need to continue day-to-day operations that all Americans rely on.”

The Iowa Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation have endorsed the legislation.

Hinson supported passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and indicates on her website that in Congress she would “always put Iowa farmers and families first.”