Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET
The Trump administration will provide $16 billion in aid to keep farmers afloat as they reel from the yearlong trade war between the U.S. and China, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters in a briefing on Thursday.
The bulk of the aid, or about $14.5 billion, is direct aid to farmers, which producers will start to see some time this summer, Perdue said.
“While farmers themselves will tell you they’d rather than trade than aid, without the trade that has been possible, they’re going to need some support,” he said.
Perdue placed the blame for farmers’ economic losses on China, rather than on the Trump administration’s own hard-line trade tactics.
“Frankly,” he said, “all of this would have been moot if China would have acted appropriately and fairly in many of the areas regarding intellectual property theft and nontariff barriers that they have put up for many years.”
While the aid comes from a fund known as the Commodity Credit Corporation, a federal entity founded during the Depression devoted to stabilizing farm income and prices by buying their crops, Trump administration officials including Perdue have said China will pay for the aid to the farm sector.
When asked to explain that assertion, Perdue said, “The president feels very strongly that the tariff revenue is going to be used to support this program, which will come back out and replenish the CCC, as it does every year.”
“While legally you can’t direct tariff payments into agriculture, that’s what the president feels like China is paying for this program.”
The plan also includes efforts to sell American products in more markets outside of China. Officials said about $100 million will be put toward market diversification.
Agriculture has been among sectors hit hardest by the U.S. trade conflict with China. The announcement of new relief to farmers comes as fears rise over an economic slump in the agricultural economy.
Trump’s hard-line moves on trade with China have reduced U.S. income at a rate of around $1.4 billion a month, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Analysis by the New York Fed estimates that the new tariffs will cost the average U.S. household $831 annually.
Last year, the Trump administration provided $12 billion in aid to farmers to try to offset their losses from the trade war.
The economic troubles have had multiplier effects in recent months. Some farmers across the Midwest are struggling with debt, prompting bankruptcy filings among farmers to rise sharply. A further blow for the country’s agricultural sector has come in the form of natural disasters. Floods have killed livestock and drowned hundreds of millions of dollars in crops.
Some Democrats, including Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, criticized the Trump administration’s latest attempt to shore up farmers’ wages, saying the financial support to the agricultural sector is only necessary because of the president’s “chaotic trade agenda.”
“Unfortunately, this complex scheme leaves [farmers] with more questions than answers. I have a number of concerns about whether this plan is fair and equitable to all farmers,” Stabenow said in a statement. “Government checks are no replacement for lost markets, and this temporary support will only go so far.”
Trump is expected address the nation’s farmers Thursday afternoon from the White House.