USDA will reopen all its Farm Service Agency offices on Thursday with furloughed workers providing an expanded set of services for farmers, including processing Market Facilitation Program applications.
Some FSA offices have provided “limited services for existing loans and tax documents” since Jan. 17, but on Jan. 24, “all FSA offices will open and offer a longer list of transactions they will accommodate,” USDA said Tuesday.
“At President (Donald) Trump’s direction, we have been working to alleviate the effects of the lapse in federal funding as best we can, and we are happy to announce the reopening of FSA offices for certain services,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “We want to offer as much assistance as possible until the partial government shutdown is resolved.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., questioned how federal agencies could function without funding. The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal agencies from obligating or spending federal money not appropriated by Congress.
"Rather than finding ways to minimize the impact of the current government shutdown, and straining legal bounds to do so, it is my strong belief that the best way to fix the current situation is to simply end the shutdown,” Warner wrote to several heads of federal departments, including Perdue.
Perdue also said the deadline to apply for the MFP, designed to help farmers harmed by tariffs, has been extended to Feb. 14. The original deadline had been Jan. 15. “Other program deadlines may be modified and will be announced as they are addressed,” USDA said.
For the first two full weeks under the new operating plan (Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 and Feb. 4 through Feb. 8), FSA offices will be open Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. “In subsequent weeks, offices will be open three days a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, if needed to provide the additional administrative services,” USDA said.
Tuesday was the 32nd day of the partial shutdown of the federal government, the longest in the country’s history. Trump and House Democrats have been at loggerheads over funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump wants it but the Democrats don’t, which has created an impasse affecting about 800,000 federal workers.
“Updates to available services and offices will be made during the lapse in federal funding on the FSA shutdown webpage,” USDA said. “Programs managed by FSA that were reauthorized by the 2018 farm bill will be available at a later date yet to be determined.”
USDA said that with the Office of Management and Budget, it reviewed "all of its funding accounts that are not impacted by the lapse in appropriation" and then "further refined this list to include programs where the suspension of the activity associated with these accounts would significantly damage or prevent the execution of the terms of the underlying statutory provision."
As a result of the review, USDA said it was able to allow more furloughed employees to return to work. "Those accounts that are not impacted by the lapse in appropriation include mandatory, multiyear and no-year discretionary funding including FY 2018 Farm Bill activities."
Now all 9,700 FSA employees have been recalled to help farmers with a wide array of services, listed below:
- Market Facilitation Program
- Marketing Assistance Loans
- Release of collateral warehouse receipts
- Direct and Guaranteed Farm Operating Loans, and Emergency Loans
- Service existing Conservation Reserve Program contracts
- Sugar Price Support Loans
- Dairy Margin Protection Program
- Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage
- Livestock Forage Disaster
- Emergency Assistance Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish Program
- Livestock Indemnity Program
- Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program
- Tree Assistance Program
- Remaining Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program payments for applications already processed
Transactions that will not be available include, but are not limited to:
- New Conservation Reserve Program contracts
- New Direct and Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans
- Farm Storage Facility Loan Program
- New or in-process Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program applications
- Emergency Conservation Program
- Emergency Forest Rehabilitation Program
- Biomass Crop Assistance Program
- Grassroots Source Water Protection Program
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This story was updated Jan. 23 with Sen. Warner's comments.