Government Shutdown to Impact Farmers; Farm Bill Expires

Because Congress wasn’t able to pass a federal budget, the federal government shut down at midnight on Sept. 30, 2013. A shutdown means all federal agencies must layoff non-essential personnel and close non-essential programs and offices. Since 1976 there have been 17 government shutdowns, the longest lasting 21 days in 1995-1996.

What does that mean for farmers?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t said precisely how many of its 100,000 workers will be furloughed.
At the Food Safety and Inspection Service, 8,407 of the 9,633 employees will remain on duty – though those numbers could change if the shutdown lasts longer than two days. Some workers, such 528 of the 743 at the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, will remain unaffected, since their salaries are funded by user fees, not federal money. However, local Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, or Natural Resources Conservation Service staff will not be considered essential, so farmers will not be able to receive any loans for programs they have applied for.
Inspections of meat and poultry will continue, and the agency will halt its production of statistical reports on crop estimates and sales widely used in the agricultural market.
Listed below is a summary of how the government shutdown will affect farmers who depend on USDA programs and other government services.

Farm Program Payments

Farm program payments for crops planted in 2013 would continue after the farm bill expires September 30. However, payments would not be able to be delivered under a government shutdown.
Food Safety
Food safety inspectors are considered essential and would stay on at the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) would also continue inspections to the extent they’re paid by user fees.
Rural Development Programs
Rural development programs would be put on hold, and no additional loans/grants, including RD rural housing loans or guarantees, will be issued. Projects already financed that are under construction would also be delayed. These programs include the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Rural Community Development Initiative Grants, Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG), Rural Economic Development Loans and Grants (REDLG), among several others.
Conservation
Because National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff is not considered essential, enrollment in conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) would stop. In addition, there would be no future financial assistance or technical assistance available through NRCS staff. However, USDA would continue to honor existing contracts.
Foreign Agricultural Service
Funding for Foreign Agricultural Service’s Foreign Market Development Program and Market Access Program could be delayed.  Funding for international offices and staff will stop.
Food Aid
Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the federal school lunch program would continue. However, funding will stop for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants and Children (WIC)—which provides grants to states for food aid, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income woman and children.
Forest Service
As already noted, Forest Service employees deemed essential, such as firefighters, would stay on. However, national parks across the nation would be closed. This includes the Smithsonian museums, National Zoo and civil war battlefields and the national monuments in Washington, D.C.

Immigration

The Department of Homeland Security will no longer operate its E-Verify program, which means that businesses will not be able to check on the legal immigration status of prospective employees during the shutdown.
Regulatory Agencies
The Environmental Protection Agency will close down almost entirely during a shutdown, save for operations around Superfund sites. Many of the Labor Department’s regulatory offices will close, including the Wage and Hour Division and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (The Mine Safety and Health Administration will, however, stay open.)
Also on Sept. 30, the current Farm Bill officially expired. American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman released the following statement:
“Farmers and ranchers, along with 90 percent of the country, are frustrated with Congress.  Aside from shutting down the government, the one-year farm bill extension Congress granted last session also expired at midnight, while the new farm bill has yet to formally reach the conference process.
“Farm Bureau members are deeply concerned over the political challenges that are making it next to impossible for Congress to reach a compromise on important legislation, while restoring fiscal order and setting a responsible course to get the federal budget back on track.  Adding to our frustration, both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill would provide significant savings that could be applied toward reducing the federal deficit.
“Now that the 2008 farm bill extension has expired, farmers once again are left with uncertainty as to the safety net and risk management tools that are important in planning for next year’s crop.  And come January, consumers once again face the impact of high food costs as decades-old farm policy kicks in. 
“Both the House and Senate agriculture committees have worked hard to put together bipartisan packages that would deliver solid safety net options and comprehensive risk management tools for farmers and ranchers.  It is past time for Congress to let these two committees get back to what they do best – work together in a bipartisan fashion to forge the best new farm bill possible in today’s tough political environment.
“Farm Bureau is encouraging Congress and President Obama to work together to get the budget process in order, get our national economy back on track and move forward on legislation important to agriculture, such as the farm bill, immigration and tax reform and waterways funding.”

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