Today marks day 13 of the partial government shutdown and there is no real solution in sight. As the 116th Congress is sworn in today, perhaps we’ll see some headway, but many indicators show we’ll be waiting a bit longer. The U.S. Dept of Agriculture (USDA) is one of the few federal agencies that was able to continue operations in the early days of the shutdown, thanks to funding it had left in its coffers. But that’s no longer the case. Outside of so-called “essential activities” like food safety inspections, wildfire suppression and nutrition assistance programs, USDA operations have shut down and farmers are beginning to feel the impact. If the shutdown continues, that impact on farmers will deepen.
After one of the toughest years in recent history, this government shutdown is the last thing farmers needed to end the year and to start a new one.
Here are a few ways the government shutdown is already leaving its mark on family farmers:
- USDA Farm Service Agency county offices are now closed and will not reopen until normal government operations resume. That means farmers making loan applications through FSA offices are in limbo, and farmers waiting for direct payments, market assistance loans, market facilitation payments and disaster assistance program payments, particularly in a time of farm crisis, are being left high and dry.
- Farmers awaiting payments to offset the Trump administration’s trade wars will have to wait until after the shutdown to receive aid;
- Livestock and commodity reports, including economic projections that farmers rely on to make business decisions on a daily basis, are no longer being published;
- Investigations of fraudulent and anti-competitive activities by meat and poultry processors are suspended;
- USDA is no longer able to issue new loans for rural development or grants for housing, community facilities and utility companies and small rural businesses, and
- Grants and payments are no longer being processed for agricultural research and education and extension projects.
On top of this, there is the concern that the shutdown will delay the USDA’s implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill passed in December, and that further delays in the appropriations process will hamper the ability to get critical funding to dozens of farm bill programs that support farmers, rural communities, local and regional food systems, healthy food access and so much more.
In short, after one of the toughest years in recent history, this government shutdown is the last thing farmers needed to end the year and to start a new one. We are hopeful that the new Congress can begin to work together – and with the President – to bring resolution to this conflict and the many others that have had an out-sized impact on the farm economy and America’s family farmers.