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Northeastern farmers are rushing to enroll in USDA’s main coronavirus stimulus program, collecting $261 million in the program’s first three weeks.

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP, has paid the most to the region’s dairy farmers, with $79 million going to New York and $39 million to Pennsylvania.

The program, created through the federal CARES Act and another funding bill, provides direct payments to farmers who have seen a price decline of 5% or more, and who face substantial marketing costs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ag markets and supply chains have been roiled by the lengthy closures of foodservice businesses, some of which have recently started to reopen.

CFAP will make up to $16 billion in direct payments to farmers. It also includes $3 billion for the Farmers to Families Food Box program, which purchases food to give to people in need.

Since launching the day after Memorial Day, CFAP has made $2.9 billion in direct payments to 220,000 farmers.

In the Northeast, more than 22,000 applications had been filed in four product categories — field crops, specialty crops, livestock and dairy.

The number of farms that have applied is lower than 22,000 because many farmers applied in more than one category.

Most of the region’s applicants are from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia.

Ohio has so far received the most for field crops, $15 million on 3,000 applications.

Virginia has received the most in the livestock category, with $21 million on 3,000 applications.

Specialty crops have been paid $53 million nationwide, by far the least of the four categories.

New York and Pennsylvania, at $900,000 apiece, are the only states in the Northeast that have received significant payouts in that sector.

Mushrooms, a major industry in Pennsylvania, and apples, important to both states, are among the specialty crops eligible for compensation.

Rhode Island, which has only one application in two categories, is the only state besides Alaska where no farmers had received any CFAP funding as of June 15.

The average payments to Northeastern farms appear to generally be lower than the national average. That isn’t a big surprise, considering the region’s farms are small compared to operations in other parts of the country.

Strong demand for CFAP funding seems likely to continue.

The Farm Service Agency paid $1.5 billion in just the second week of June, while applications for the program rose 170%.

Farmers don’t need to be in a mad rush to apply, though.

Enrollment is open through Aug. 28, and unlike the Paycheck Protection Program — a stimulus program that infamously ran out of money soon after opening — CFAP is not a strictly first-come, first-served program.

USDA is only giving farmers 80% of their possible payment up front. More will be paid if there’s money left over.

Still, farmers may need to have some patience with FSA offices as they process the deluge of CFAP applications.

Lancaster Farming received a complaint about slow responses from the FSA office in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

And in a column for The News-Gazette in Lexington, Virginia, Extension educator Tom Stanley said offices had become backlogged.

“Needless to say, our offices are really busy and trying to take care (of) our producers,” Keith Beattie, an agricultural program specialist at FSA’s Pennsylvania office, said in an email.

FSA service centers are closed to the public during the pandemic and may not have all of their staff working on site.

But farmers can still receive assistance by phone, submit digital signatures for documents, and send in forms via mail.

The FSA office in Lancaster County has so far processed close to 200 CFAP applications and disbursed $3 million.

That’s been accomplished with just two people in the office and paperwork coming due for four other programs, Beattie said.

On Tuesday, the agency announced it was hiring full-time temporary program technicians. Applications were to be accepted only through Friday, June 19.

To speak with a USDA employee about CFAP and get help with the application, call 877-508-8364.

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