Iowa's Ernst Questions USDA Grant Program

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Two Iowans were in the national spotlight today (Thursday) during an oversight hearing. Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst questioned U-S Department of Agriculture Secretary, and fellow Iowan, Tom Vilsack about a federal program designed to boost small and medium livestock and poultry producers.

Ernst, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, raised concerns grants awarded through the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program (MPPEP). The program was part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, passed in 2021. 

Ernst pointed out that $69 million in grants awarded through the program have gone to three projects owned by billionaires, while applications for producer-supplied and producer-owned start-ups have gone largely overlooked by the agency. She says the program was meant to give producers a fair chance to compete in the marketplace, but she says when it comes to implementing the program, the priority is going to billionaires while Iowa farmer-owned startups, like Cattlemen’s Heritage and West Liberty Foods, seem to be deemed unworthy.

"We think the 31 projects we've funded already are good projects and are going to expand market opportunities, but we have not stopped, there are going to be more," said Vilsack.

Vilsack says some of the smaller projects are currently under review and may merit additional investment. He says Iowa has received several grants already and may receive more. He says it's hoped the program will be spread out and will help meet market demand.

"It's important that we have support to some of these smaller, farmer-owned facilities, but the discouraging part is when we do see these incredibly large producers those that are on the billionaires list, rather receiving a loan, they're receiving the free dollars from our taxpayers," said Ernst.

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