.grecaptcha-badge { visibility: hidden; }

USDA ‘Lacks Transparency’ In How It’s Distributing Coronavirus Aid

In the past two weeks, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued about $1.4 billion to agricultural producers to provide a boost amid the coronavirus pandemic.

What’s unclear is how those distributions were calculated.


“We lack some pretty key transparency on how they get to the payment,” says Jonathan Coppess, Assistant Professor of agriculture at the University of Illinois.


The payments are part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), a program launched by the USDA in April to maintain the food supply chain and feed hungry Americans. CFAP includes a total of $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers. 


So far, Midwestern states, led by Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois and Kansas, have received the bulk of the money. Livestock producers have been top earners overall as well.


While the USDA is releasing weekly tallies of where the money is going, it’s unclear how they’re making those determinations.


“USDA’s provided information that tends to argue that their methodology involves some estimate of losses… how they calculate those losses remains at times uncertain if not questionable,” Coppess says. 


Understanding how the department distributes money is important in maintaining transparency, says Coppess.


“This question of transparency around this is valuable and important in terms of understanding not just the program, but whether it was properly put together, whether it was fair and equitable,” he says.


This isn’t the first time the USDA has been criticized for its lack of transparency around distributing aid. The agency faced a similar backlash after issuing Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments for losses farmers incurred during the trade war with China. Watchdog groups and prominent members of Congress suggested the USDA unevenly administered the money, favoring the South and farms owned by billionaires and foreign-owned companies.


Follow Dana on Twitter @DanaHCronin

Copyright 2020 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

WILL and the Illinois Newsroom are committed to bringing you in-depth, relevant coverage that keeps you informed and engages you with our community and state. Join with thousands of others to keep this important public media-based resource available to all. Donate today >>

Dana Cronin

Dana Cronin

Dana Cronin covers food and agriculture for Illinois Newsroom. Her work has reached both national and regional audiences through WILL's partnership with Harvest Public Media, an ag-focused Midwest reporting collaborative. Prior to Illinois Newsroom, she worked at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C. and for other member stations including KQED in San Francisco and 91.5 KRCC in Colorado Springs, CO. ➤ DCronin@illinois.edu@DanaHCronin

More Stories From Illinois Newsroom

Urbana city and school officials hope to redevelop the site of a downtown school district building.

The site of a school district building could become downtown Urbana’s next commercial development. For years, the one-story building at 205-211 North Race Street was home to District 116’s administrative headquarters and adult education center. With those offices moving elsewhere, the district wants to sell the property to the city, which would then tear it down and seek a commercial developer for the site.

After years of planning, a casino opens in Danville

Nearly a year after a groundbreaking ceremony, a new casino opened to the public for the first time on Saturday in Danville’s Eastgate area. Initially, the casino will be open eight hours a day, closed on Tuesdays.