Alabama farmers need to receive more financial assistance as Congress develops the nation's next stimulus package tied to the coronavirus, Sen. Doug Jones said Wednesday.
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about agriculture. That’s been a big deal in the Wiregrass area,” the Alabama's Democratic senator said during a video conference call with Wiregrass economic leaders. “I think the farmers are in the gravest danger, even more so than a lot of our small businesses right now.”
He said his office is trying to get farmers more help as the last four coronavirus relief bills haven’t offered those in agribusiness as much emergency financial assistance as other industries. One way he said is granting priority in getting farmer’s Payroll Protection Program loans green-lighted.
“Family farms are struggling,” he said. “I’m hoping this legislation will do a little bit better than we did for famers (in the last bills), because I think our food supply in some jeopardy.”
Additionally, several members of Congress, including Jones, are calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the meat-packing industry for raising prices on packaging while lowering prices for cattle.
“As we’ve gone through this pandemic, as crazy as it has been, we have been doing things on the legislative front as well, what I call constituent services,” Jones said, like making sure businesses are successful in applying for Small Business Administration loans.
He said the program has been successful in getting emergency loans to Alabama businesses that may act as grant money. Approximately 58,000 loans totaling $6.38 billion have been administered to Alabama businesses so far.
Jones hopes elements of past legislation, like money given to state governments, can be loosened in the next stimulus package to give a portion to local governments to recover lost revenue due to the impact of the coronavirus.
“Frankly, I hope it can be used that way instead of building a $200 million statehouse in Montgomery. I think cities like Dothan need it more than our legislators do,” Jones said, making reference to earlier reports that some state lawmakers have listed a $200 million new statehouse as one of the possible projects that may be tied to federal funds recently sent to Alabama.
In a letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Jones encouraged her to create a healthcare manufacturing task force using abandoned textile plants or other recently-shuttered plants because he believes the state is positioned to be a leader in Personal Protective Equipment manufacturing as these items could be in higher demand in the future.
In communicating his office’s top priorities, Jones said he has also been in communication with top Fort Rucker officials, who he said are doing a “great job.” He said Fort Rucker is an ongoing vital piece of America’s military, and strengthening the military and modernizing national security defenses are top priorities.
Jones also said he is optimistic about Alabama’s future as it reopens its economy, although the steps to reopen will have to be slow.