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Struggling Valley farmers hope to benefit from federal funds

Posted at 10:54 AM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 17:24:37-04

PHOENIX — Farming is one of the founding industries of Arizona and they are hurting right now.

Relief money is being promised by the federal government again, but trying to get any funding up to this point has been an uphill battle, so few are confident they'll get as much help as they need as quickly as they need it.

McClendon Select Organic Farm makes most of its profits by supplying about 90 restaurants around Arizona. Social distancing rules immediately changed demand.

"It was almost overnight the restaurant orders either slowed down significantly or stopped all together," said Kate McClendon. Her husband's family has run the farm in the west Valley for decades.

Trying to pivot and prevent waste, the McClendon's started grab-and-go boxes for farmers markets but she says it's a complete change in production for their business and hasn't made up for the loss already sustained.

She's spent the last few weeks trying to access the the Paycheck Protection Program. McClendon says the application was nine pages of IRS redundancies and she tried applying through two different banks to no avail before the program ran out of cash.

"We've been put through red tape and a time-consuming, confusing process we are trying to learn overnight and navigate while being pitted against corporations that have teams of people that can do this on their behalf," said McClendon.

She also tried to get help through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and found small farms are one of the few industries that don't qualify -- and then that program ran out of money too.

The USDA has now been approved to distribute $16 billion exclusively for farmers and ranchers -- $5.1 billion designated for cattle ranchers, $2.9 billion for dairy farms, and $6 billion will go to crop farmers, like the McClendons.

If they qualify it will cover 85% of current loss and 30% of future projections with a combined cap of $250,000.

The USDA points out farms have to prove loss for a qualifying product and not every farm will qualify for the full amount. They do hope to have specifics from the head of the USDA by week's end and ideally will take applications early next month with payments ready by the end of May.

Without a clear plan of action for applications, priority and deadlines for the new USDA funding, McClendon fears some of the same issues she ran into with the first relief package. Time is of the essence as they should be putting summer crops in the ground but without knowing their economic outlook, it's harder for them to determine how much or little to replant.

"Quite frankly, I'm a little scared about what it's going to look like when the summer heat starts," said McClendon.

They have started an online fundraiser to help supplement checks for their 24 employees, and you can donate here.