The government shutdown is now in effect, but that doesn’t mean USDA officials aren’t still keeping the nation’s meat supply safe and doing many of the jobs that keep agricultural commerce flowing.
“There may be a lapse in funding for the federal government, but that will not relieve USDA of its responsibilities for safeguarding life and property through the critical services we provide,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said Friday evening after it was clear that Congress and the president would not be able to reach a spending agreement to keep government from partially shutting down.
Many USDA employees, some of whom are already taking off time for the holiday season, will be put on “emergency furlough,” but some will be designated as “excepted,” according to USDA’s “Lapse in Funding Plans” and will stay on the job.
One of those employees who won’t be furloughed is USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. He and his highest-ranking staff, including Deputy Secretary Steve Censky and some under secretaries will be on the job – so long as they are not already on vacation.
Even before the shutdown, members of USDA’s Office of the Secretary (OSEC) team were preparing to shut down much of USDA operations and that will continue Wednesday.
“On the first day of the shutdown, all OSEC employees will report for duty as scheduled and proceed with orderly shutdown including securing files, cancelling schedules, and certifying sub-agency orderly shutdown procedures,” according to the shutdown guidance.
While FSA county offices are expected to shut down, they will remain open at least through Friday, an agency official tells Agri-Pulse.
“Following the lapse in funding, FSA county offices will remain open from December 26-28,” according to an FSA statement. “If you need to visit your FSA county office, please check our website or call your local office to ensure we are open before you make the trip. You can find your local office by visiting https://www.farmers.gov/service-locator.”
Many USDA employees cannot be furloughed without risking a threat to consumer health (government meat inspectors) or economic welfare (staff that inspect and weigh grain to keep exports flowing).
An example of employees that will not be furloughed are Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service officials stationed overseas. They are responsible for “scientific expertise in reducing human-wildlife conflicts, including wildlife hazards at airports, military bases throughout the United States and the world” and their salaries are covered by user fees – not taxpayer funds.
It takes time to shut down the government and, in the case of USDA agencies, it will likely take three to five days.
Reports, data collection and even the Economic Research Service web site will shut down almost immediately, according to USDA. The agency also stipulates that, “Farm loans and some farm payments (including direct payments, market assistance loans, market facilitation payments for those producers who have not certified production, and disaster assistance programs)" would not be continued after the first week of the shutdown.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for January will still be continued and most other domestic nutrition assistance programs, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, WIC, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, can continue to operate at the State and local level with any funding and commodity resources that remain available, the agency noted. "Additional Federal funds and commodities will not be provided during the period of the lapse."
USDA said the Child Nutrition (CN) Programs, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk will continue operations into February.
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