Evers announces $50 million in direct payments to Wisconsin farmers, $15 million toward food security

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Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday announced the state would funnel $50 million in federal coronavirus aid to Wisconsin farmers struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Evers also announced a $15 million program to fill gaps in the food supply chain and help food pantries adapt.

The aid for farmers will come in the form of direct payments, Evers said in a statement. Farmers can apply to the Wisconsin Farm Support Program through the Department of Revenue, the statement said. No details on how to apply were given.

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Farmers could receive the payments as early as June, the statement said.

“Farmers have asked for help, and this direct aid is meant to aid the farmers who are the foundation of our food system,” Evers said. “Farmers also serve as the backbone of many of Wisconsin’s local rural economies, and these direct payments will help revitalize local economies and jump-start Wisconsin’s food supply chain, which has been significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The state has received about $2 billion to help deal with coronavirus. Evers can decide on his own how to spend the federal money and doesn’t need approval from the Legislature, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Evers’ allocation to farmers is in response to requests by agricultural groups and Republican lawmakers for $50 million in aid. He said earlier this month that he was consulting with the agricultural industry on how to structure the aid and was inclined to direct much of it to small farms. 

“Everybody in this state is struggling but there are … some folks that are hurting more than others and that’s how we should divvy up this money,” he told Brownfield Ag News. 

“Our goal is to make sure that producers are prioritized. The people who are getting the small milk checks are the ones that need the most help.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, Wisconsin dairy farmers faced an economic crisis that caused a raft of farm closures and bankruptcies. The virus outbreak has only worsened the situation.

Initiative aimed at food banks

Part of the $15 million Food Security Initiative will go toward helping food banks and pantries respond to challenges posed by the pandemic, according to Evers’ statement.

This may include adding curbside or delivery services or purchasing prepared meals from local restaurants, the statement said. The program will urge the use of Wisconsin products 

Another portion of the food security initiative will go toward helping food banks and nonprofits “purchase, process, and/or store Wisconsin agricultural products for distribution to local consumers in need,” the statement reads.

State Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, lauded the two new programs Wednesday. He led the coalition of 39 lawmakers in asking Evers for the farm aid.

“While I do not have all of the details for how he will be distributing these funds to farmers, I sincerely appreciate his effort to help the farmers in our communities,” Marklein said in a statement. “Our ag industry deserves this level of support and I trust that his administration will distribute the funds in a meaningful way as soon as possible.”

Evers on Wednesday also announced a $25 million rent assistance program with funds carved from the federal COVID-19 aid.

Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Contact Sophie Carson at (414) 223-5512 or scarson@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SCarson_News.

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