Additional assistance for distressed farmers facing financial risk
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that beginning in April it will provide approximately $123 million in additional, automatic financial assistance for qualifying farm loan program borrowers who are facing financial risk as part of the $3.1 billion to help distressed farm loan borrowers that was provided through Section 22006 of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The announcement builds on financial assistance offered to borrowers through the same program in October 2022.The IRA directed USDA to expedite assistance to distressed borrowers of direct or guaranteed loans administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) whose operations face financial risk. For example, in the October payments, farmers that were 60 days delinquent due to challenges like natural disasters, the pandemic or other unexpected situations were brought current and had their next installment paid to give them breathing room.“In too many cases, the rules surrounding our farm loan programs may actually be detrimental to helping a borrower get back to a financially viable path. As a result, some are pushed out of farming and others stuck under a debt burden that prevents them from growing or reacting to opportunities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Loan programs for the newest and more vulnerable producers must be about providing opportunity and tailored to expect and manage stumbles and hurdles along the way. Through this assistance, USDA is focusing on generating long-term stability and success for distressed borrowers.”In October 2022, USDA provided approximately $800 million in initial IRA assistance to more than 11,000 delinquent direct and guaranteed borrowers and approximately 2,100 borrowers who had their farms liquidated and still had remaining debt. USDA shared that it would conduct case by case reviews of about 1,600 complex cases for potential initial relief payments, including cases of borrowers in foreclosure or bankruptcy. These case by case reviews are underway.At the same time in October 2022, USDA announced that it anticipated payments using separate pandemic relief funding totaling roughly $66 million on over 7,000 direct loans to borrowers who used the USDA Farm Service Agency’s disaster set aside option during the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of these payments have been processed and USDA anticipates it will complete all such payments in April 2023.FSA intends to provide the new round of relief starting in April to additional distressed borrowers. This will include approximately $123 million in automatic financial assistance for qualifying Farm Loan Program (FLP) direct loan borrowers who meet certain criteria. Similar to the automatic payments announced in October 2022, qualifying borrowers will receive an individual letter detailing the assistance as payments are made. Distressed borrowers’ eligibility for these new categories of automatic payments will be determined based on their circumstances. More information about the new categories that make up the $123 million in assistance announced and the specific amount of assistance a distressed borrower receives can be found described in this fact sheet, IRA Section 22006: Additional Automatic Payments, Improved Procedures and Policy Recommendations (https://www.farmers.gov/sites/default/files/documents/farmersgov-factsheet-ira-22006-additional-automatic-payments.pdf).To continue to make sure producers are aware of relief potentially available to them, all producers with open FLP loans will receive a letter detailing a new opportunity to receive assistance if they took certain extraordinary measures to avoid delinquency on their FLP loans, such as taking on more debt, selling property or cashing out retirement accounts. The letter will provide details on eligibility, the specific types of actions that may qualify for assistance and the process for applying for and providing the documentation to seek that assistance.These steps are part of a process USDA announced along with the October payments that is focused on assisting borrowers unable to make their next scheduled installment. Earlier this year, all borrowers should have received a letter detailing the process for seeking this type of assistance even before they become delinquent. Borrowers who are within two months of their next installment may seek a cashflow analysis from FSA using a recent balance sheet and operating plan to determine their eligibility.USDA will continue to work with the Department of Treasury to help borrowers understand the potential tax implications from the receipt of an IRA payment including that options may be available to potentially avoid or alleviate any tax burden incurred as a result of receiving this financial assistance.In early April, USDA will send a specific set of revised tax documents, educational materials and resources to borrowers that received assistance in 2022 including a link to a webinar hosted by a group of farm tax experts to provide education on the options available. USDA cannot provide tax advice and encourages borrowers to consult their own tax professional, but FSA is providing educational materials for borrowers to be aware of the options. USDA has tax related resources available at farmers.gov/taxes.FSA is finalizing changes to its policy handbooks to remove unnecessary hurdles, improve loan making and loan servicing and provide more flexibility on how loans are structured to maximize the opportunities for borrowers. Additional details on those changes can be found in the linked fact sheet and are the start of a broader set of process enhancements. The fact sheet also provides information on the eight, no cost legislative proposals included in the Fiscal Year 2024 President’s Budget that are designed to improve the borrower experience.