Shutting down the federal government on Dec. 22 seems to be adding insult to injury for farmers. Not only are they dealing with a trade war and tariffs at a time when commodity prices are very low, but they also are now unable to access the help they need from the Farm Service Agency.
In one stroke of luck, Congress managed to pass a farm bill in December that President Donald Trump signed before Christmas. In the farm bill, are several programs designed to help farmers. But with the government shut down and most of USDA employees furloughed, nobody is available to administer those programs.
The timing could hardly be worse. The shutdown could wreak havoc on farm families and the rural economy as farmers wait on subsidy payments, loans, filling out applications for trade aid, and data they need now to make plans for the spring.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Jan. 16 that many of the FSA offices would reopen for three days — Jan. 17, Jan. 18 and Jan. 22 — to process a limited amount of information for farmers. Perdue recalled only 2,500 employees. In almost half of FSA locations, FSA staff will be available to assist farmers with existing farm loans and to ensure the agency provides 1099 tax documents to borrowers by the Internal Revenue Service’s deadline.
Staff members will be available at some offices to perform specific services, including:
• processing payments made on or before Dec. 31
• continuing expiring financing statements
• opening mail to identify priority items
Perdue said, as an intermittent duty, staff may release proceeds from the sale of loan security by signing checks jointly payable to FSA that are brought to the county office by farmers.
Farmers who have loan deadlines during the lapse in funding do not need to make payments until the government shutdown ends, Perdue said.
Reopened FSA offices will only be able to provide specifically identified services while open during this limited time. Services that will not be available include but are not limited to:
• new direct or facility loans
• new farm loan guarantees
• new marketing assistance loans
• new applications for the Market Facilitation Program
• certification of 2018 production for MFP payments
• Dairy Margin Protection Program
• disaster assistance programs, such as the Livestock Indemnity Program, Emergency Conservation Program, Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program, and Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish
While Jan. 15 had been the original deadline for producers to apply for the MFP, farmers have been unable to apply since the government shutdown began. Perdue has extended the MFP application deadline for a period of time equal to the number of business days FSA offices end up being closed, once the government shutdown ends. These announced days of limited staff availability during the shutdown will not constitute days open in calculating the extension. Producers who already applied for the MFP and certified their 2018 production before the shutdown should have already received their payments.
Probably the only positive thing to come out of the government shutdown is farmers will learn exactly what the federal government does.
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