The Agriculture Department is closing county Farm Service Agency offices after Friday and will suspend publication of some new reports and take others offline with the partial government shutdown set to drag into the new year.
The closing of local FSA offices means that the agency will stop processing new applications for Market Facilitation Program payments.
The deadline for applying for the payments, which are intended to offset the impact of retaliatory tariffs on commodity prices, is Jan. 15. MFP payments will continue to be distributed to farmers who have had their production already certified by FSA.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will decide whether the MFP application deadline is extended, a spokesman said.
USDA’s Market News Service will continue issuing its industry reports, but reports from the National Agricultural Statistics Service will be suspended as well as the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, scheduled for release on Jan. 11. The Economic Research Service site will be taken offline, the department said.
USDA is among the departments and agencies for which Congress has not yet passed fiscal 2019 spending bills. Others include the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and the Interior Department. Those departments and agencies had been operating at FY18 spending levels under a continuing resolution that expired Dec. 21 amid an impasse between President Donald Trump over his demands for $5 billion in border wall funding.
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Friday that negotiations with congressional Democrats had stalled with no resolution in sight. He blamed House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for the impasse, saying she didn’t want to risk losing the vote among her colleagues next week to become speaker. Democrats will assume control of the House on Thursday when the new Congress convenes.
“The discussions have broken down. We do expect this to go on for a while,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney said Trump had backed off his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding but that Democrats were no longer negotiating. Mulvaney declined to say what new amount Trump had proposed.
During the shutdown, USDA will continue operations that have ongoing funding allocations, including through mandatory programs, for which funding levels are set by authorizing laws, or through user fees.
Natural Resources Conservation Service offices will remain open to provide technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and easement programs.
The department also will continue inspections of meat and grain as well as inspections for import and export activities to prevent the introduction and spread of pests. Participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will continue to receive benefits.
But other domestic nutrition assistance programs, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance (WIC), won't receive new federal funding. Those programs can continue to operate with state and local dollars.
USDA will stop providing new rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities and businesses, and the department will suspend spending on control of plant and animal pests and diseases unless the work is funded by outside sources that don’t use appropriated funds.
Recreation sites in the national forests will not be staffed unless they are operated by outside entities under a recreational special use permit, and new timber sales will be suspended as well as most forest fuels reduction activities in and near communities.
USDA research facilities will shut down except for the care for animals and plants and at the associated infrastructure that are needed to protect research projects.
EPA is planning on furloughing about 13,000 employees and keeping about 700 on duty, according to the agency's contingency plan. In a message to employees Thursday, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said "employees will receive instructions, which includes accessing and reading your furlough notice over email, changing your voicemail message, enabling your electronic out-of-office message, and completing your time card."
The Food and Drug Administration began on Dec. 22 to continue "vital activities, to the extent permitted by the law, that are critical to ensuring public health and safety in the United States," the agency said.
FDA said "the mission critical, public health activities that will continue include, among other things: maintaining core functions to handle and respond to emergencies – such as monitoring for and quickly responding to outbreaks related to foodborne illness and the flu, supporting high-risk food and medical product recalls when products endanger consumers and patients, pursuing civil investigations when we believe public health is imminently at risk and pursuing criminal investigations, screening the food and medical products that are imported to the U.S. to protect consumers and patients from harmful products, and addressing other critical public health issues that involve imminent threats to the safety of human life."
Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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