Governor’s Proposed Budget Prioritizes COVID-19 Relief & Wildfire
Kicking off the budget process that will be finalized over the next six months, Governor Newsom on Friday unveiled his much-anticipated 2021-22 state spending plan.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the $227 billion Proposed Budget is flush with new spending, including significant investments to reopen schools and direct financial support for taxpayers and small businesses which have been harmed by shutdowns and restrictions that have been imposed to prevent virus spread.
Thanks in large part to the state’s progressive tax structure and the strong economic recovery among wealthier earners—who have benefited from a red-hot housing market and record stock market gains—the Governor’s Proposed Budget paints a rosier fiscal picture than the one envisioned early in the pandemic. Rather than a feared $50 billion budget deficit due to COVID-19 economic impacts, the Legislative Analyst’s office instead envisions an approximately $26 billion windfall.
To support small-to-medium sized businesses, the budget allocates $500 million in small business grants for those impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, $430 million in grants and tax credits for business expansion and $71 million in business fee waivers. (For more information about small business stimulus grants, see UPDATE: California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program Deadline Extended, below.)
With regard to public health and the COVID-19 response, the budget includes nearly $3 billion to expand COVID testing, improve contract tracing and facilitate vaccine distribution.
Following a record wildfire season which saw 4.3 million acres burned throughout the state, the Governor’s Proposed Budget suggests investing an additional $1 billion to increase forest and community resiliency against the threat of wildfire. Specifically, the budget provides $512 million in funding for landscape resilience and prescribed burns; $335 million to complete 45 to 65 annual fuel break projects for several years and to provide grants for local fire plans; $113 million to protect fire-vulnerable communities, including $75 million in federal matching funds; $76 million to boost job and economic opportunities through forest management job training, California Conservation Corps workforce programs and the state’s new Climate Catalyst Revolving Loan Fund; and $38 million to incorporate best-available science into predictive models and resilience investments.
Also noteworthy, the budget includes statutory changes to make $200 million available through the state’s Cap-and-Trade Program to fund Cal Fire’s forest health and fire prevention programs for the next five years. Increasing prescribed burning is essential for the state to meet its goal of improving resiliency by executing 500,000 acres of prescribed burning on an annual basis beginning this year.
The Governor’s budget proposes a $1.7 billion Cap-and-Trade expenditure plan for existing programs important to the livestock industry in California. First, the plan invests $54 million (for $130 million total) to provide full implementation of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water program to ensure progress on increasing access to clean drinking water for disadvantaged communities—particularly in the Central Valley. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund directs funds within Cap-and-Trade into a number of programs including the Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductionsat $170 million. Funding is also provided for the Healthy Soils Program, providing grants for on-farm soil management programs that sequester carbon at $30 million.
To aid dairy producers in meeting the state’s ambitious methane reduction goals set by 2016’s SB 1383, the budget directs $50 million from the State’s Climate Catalyst Revolving Loan Fund to funding dairy digester projects, as well as equipment replacement, water efficiency, on-farm bioenergy efforts and other priorities.
The Proposed Budget also funds the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act at $100 million to support water efficiency and transition to sustainable groundwater sources. Of the $100 million afforded to this area, $60 million will be directed to grants for groundwater implementation projects. $40 million is for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program to help farmers reduce irrigation water use and to reduce greenhouse gases when pumping.
The Governor also proposes a restructuring of the state’s fees on pesticide products sold in California. In lieu of the current flat fee on all pesticides, the budget proposes a risk-based tiered assessment, assessing a higher fee on higher-toxicity pesticides that would be phased in over a four-year period. Discussion with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Pesticide Regulation will be needed to understand the parameters around the tiered fee concept and to assess the potential cost implications of this proposal for the livestock community.
Finally, this year’s state budget funds the Farm to School program at $10 million, designed to improve the health and well-being of California’s school children through nutrition education and healthy food access. This budget allocation will increase procurement of more California-grown food through grants for school-based meals.
For more information on the budget’s provisions relating to small business and job recovery, see the January edition of Hot Irons. For greater detail on the budget’s wildfire provisions, see the February edition of California Cattleman.
UPDATE: California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program Deadline Extended
Last week, Legislative Bulletin reported on the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, administered by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), which opened for applications on December 30, 2020 and had an initial deadline of last Friday. Now, the deadline to apply for round 1 of the program has been extended through 11:59pm this Wednesday, January 13.
Eligible businesses will have their grant applications scored “based on COVID-19 impact factors incorporated into the Program’s priority criteria.” Those factors are overviewed at the Program’s website under the heading “How will grant recipients be determined?” Grant awards will be based on the small business’s annual revenue: small businesses with annual revenue between $1,000 and $100,000 will be eligible for up to $5,000 in grants, those with revenues between $100,000 and $1 million will be eligible for up to $15,000 in grants and those with incomes above $1 million but not exceeding $2.5 million are eligible for upwards of $25,000 in grant funding.
Approval notifications for the first round of applications will be issued beginning Friday, January 15. There will be a second (and final) round of applications for the Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program in the future, at an as-yet-unannounced date. While CCA will update membership once that second round of applications is opened, applications submitted in the first round of applications but which do not receive a grant award will automatically be considered in the second round, according to the program website.
More information on the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, including links to apply for the program, is available at https://careliefgrant.com/.
Paycheck Protection Program Reopens This Week
Among the many provisions in the $2.3 trillion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 signed into law late last year was $284 billion in funding for a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The legislation also simplifies the loan forgiveness process for borrowers of less than $150,000.
The $284 billion infusion will allow small businesses which did not previously seek a PPP loan—or which were rejected for a loan—to take advantage of the program. However, initial PPP loans are now capped at $2 million, as opposed to the $10 million maximum for the prior round of small business loans. Businesses with up to 500 employees may be eligible for PPP loans.
The new law also allows certain businesses which previously obtained a PPP loan to seek a ‘second draw’ loan. To qualify, the small business must employ 300 or fewer employees and must demonstrate that it has exhausted the full amount of its first PPP loans and saw at least a 25% drop in 2020 revenue compared to 2019 revenue.
Initially, only community financial institutions will be able to make ‘first draw’ PPP loans, beginning today. Community financial institutions will begin offering ‘second draw’ PPP loans on Wednesday. PPP will open to all participating lenders “shortly thereafter,” according to SBA.
Importantly, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 also clarified that PPP loans will not be treated as taxable income, reversing an IRS ruling which would have taxed the loans. This is a win for CCA which, along with more than 700 other organizations, lobbied against PPP loans being treated as taxable income.
USFWS Issues Final Rule Regarding Incidental Take of Migratory Birds
On Thursday, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a final rule defining “the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA or Act) as it applies to conduct resulting in the injury or death of migratory birds protected by the Act.”
The Rule clarifies USFWS’s interpretation that the MBTA’s prohibitions against “pursuing, hunting, taking, capturing, killing, or attempting” to do any of those activities to migratory birds covered by the Act apply “only actions directed at migratory birds, their nests, or their eggs” (emphasis added). In short, individuals may no longer be prosecuted for actions which incidentally result in harm to protected migratory birds.
The rule reverses a long-standing interpretation that had interpreted the MBTA as prohibiting even incidental take, and which gave USFWS discretion to prosecute violations and which encouraged industries with high potential for incidental take to implement mitigation strategies.
USDA FSA’s Conservation Reserve Program Now Accepting Signups
On January 5, USDA Farm Service Agency’s California State Office announced signups for the Conservation Reserve Program (CPR) are being accepted now through February 12, 2021. Interested ranchers, farmers and private landowners are encouraged to apply.
“Through CRP, farmers and ranchers establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland,” the press release announcing the start of signups explains. “Farmers and ranchers who participate in CRP help provide numerous benefits to their local region and the nation’s environment and economy.”
“This signup for the Conservation Reserve Program gives producers and landowners an opportunity to enroll for the first time or continue their participation for another term,” FSA State Director Connie Conway said in the press release. “This program encourages conservation on sensitive lands or low-yielding acres, which provides tremendous benefits for stewardship of our natural resources and wildlife.”
To learn more about the program, eligibility and get additional information on this enrollment period, click here to read FSA’s factsheet tailored to this round of signups.
CRP celebrated 35 years of operation in December 2020 and is one of the largest private-land conservation programs in the country. For more information on signing up for the program contact your local County FSA office. You can find contact information for your County FSA office here.
US Forest Service to Update Rangeland Management Directives
Last month, the US Forest Service released the text of proposed revisions to the agency’s Rangeland Management Directives governing grazing permits and allotment administration. The proposal includes amendments to the Service’s Rangeland Management Manual, the Grazing Permit Administration Handbook and the Allotment Management Handbook.
The revisions to the Rangeland Management Directives would be the first in 30 years and are intended to make the Directives “more usable, modern and conform to recent legislation,” as well as to provide greater clarity and management flexibility. The revisions are intended to address major themes such as facilitating succession planning and conservation flexibility.
The US Forest Service is accepting public comment on the proposed revisions through Tuesday, February 16, 2021. The Service will also host two informational webinars on the proposed revisions via Microsoft Teams, which can be accessed by clicking the webinar attendee links near the bottom of the page here. The webinars will be held Wednesday, January 6 and Tuesday, January 12 from 9:00am-noon Pacific.
CCA staff will review the proposed revisions in collaboration with our national affiliates at the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and will draft written comments on the proposals by the February 16 deadline.
Register Now for the 2021 Rangeland Summit
The 2021 Rangeland Summit is set to take place January 26-29, this time as a virtual event. The event—hosted by the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition and University of California Cooperative Extension—consists of four afternoons (1p.m. to 3:30p.m. each day) with speakers and experts presenting around the theme of “Hi and Lo Tech on Rangelands Supporting Ecosystem Services.” To view the agenda and full list of speakers, click here.
Registration is required to participate and is now open for the event. To attend all four days of the Summit, the registration cost is $75. One-day registrations can also be purchased for $25 each day. Additionally, the Summit is offering special student discounts at $15 per session or $40 per day.
Access information for the meeting will be sent out upon registering. To register, click here.
Click here for details on the 2021 Photo Contest, sponsored by Point Blue Conservation Science. The deadline for entering the photo contest is this Friday, January 15, 2021.
NCBA Hosting “What to Expect from the 117th Congress & Biden Administration” Webinar on Thursday
Join the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) on Thursday from 4-5p.m. PST as their staff in the Washington, DC office runs through what to expect in the next session of Congress and from the incoming Biden Administration. According to the webinar announcement, “This session will explore the incoming Biden Administration, the 117th Congress, and how it all relates to cattle producers. NCBA’s Washington, DC team will cover everything from expected Cabinet Secretaries, potential legislation, use of the Congressional Review and more!” To register, click here.
Invitation to Attend the Society for Rangeland Management’s Annual Meeting
The Society for Rangeland Management (SRM) invites you to join their Rangelands New Frontiers Virtual Annual Meeting happening February 15-18. The four-day event includes workshops, poster presentations, networking and more, all centered around topics related to rangelands.
Additionally, there will be three Plenary Sessions focused on highlighting the challenges and opportunities present on rangelands. Plenary Session topics are: February 15, Valuing Ranching and Conservation; February 16, Adapt (or Succumb) To Climate Change on Rangelands; and February 17, Wicked Problems in Wildland Fire.
Registration costs for the event are $100 for SRM members and $50 for SRM students and young professional members. While an additional $25 is added to registrations for non-members, SRM is offering CCA members the chance to register at the SRM rate, regardless of membership with SRM. Contact Katie in the CCA office for more information on how to register at the $100 rate.
To learn more about the 2021 SRM Virtual Annual Meeting, click here.
FSA Announces ECP Signups for 41 Counties Impacted by Wildfire
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is currently accepting Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) applications in 41 California counties affected by this year’s wildfires. Applications will be accepted until January 28, 2021.
ECP provides emergency funding and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to help repair land and structures damaged by natural disasters such as wildfire. For example, ECP funds can be utilized for a variety of fencing projects, including “livestock cross fences, boundary fences, cattle gates, or wildlife exclusion fence on agricultural land.”
FSA is now accepting ECP applications in Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Lassen, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Plumas, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties.
FSA recommends that anyone seeking to utilize the ECP first apply with a county FSA office before undertaking repair or rebuilding, as “FSA’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and environmental compliance review process must be completed before any actions are taken.” You can find contact information for your County FSA office here.
ECP funding can cover up to 75% of total repair/rebuilding costs, not to exceed $500,000, and producers may have the option of receiving an advance of up to 25% of the expected repair costs prior to beginning work.
According to an FSA press release, “FSA County Committees will evaluate applications based on information provided and if applicable, an on-site inspection of the damaged land, taking into consideration the type and extent of the damage. Submission of an application does not guarantee that cost-share funding will be provided.”
More information about FSA disaster recovery programs, including ECP, is available at www.fsa.usda.gov/disaster.