Leahy issues statement on impact of shutdown including USDA | TheFencePost.com

Leahy issues statement on impact of shutdown including USDA

-The Hagstrom Report

Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., today issued a detailed statement on the impact of the partial government shutdown, including the employees and activities of the Agriculture Department.

Leahy said 52 percent of USDA employees are working without pay, and highlighted the impact on farmers, on rural America and on food banks.

“USDA has already shuttered local farm service agency county offices across the U.S. With the current challenges facing farmers due to the dramatic drop in commodity prices brought on by retaliatory tariffs, many farmers have had to rely on USDA as their lender of last resort to help pay bills and stay afloat through this winter,” Leahy said.

“Many farmers are already preparing for the spring planting and banks are not willing to lend to them, leaving USDA as their only hope. Additionally, with passage of the 2018 farm bill, farmers and ranchers will seek information on how the law will affect their operations heading into the planting year. This shutdown means Farm Service Agency staff are not able to answer those questions or assist in signing up producers for new farm bill programs. This is the worst time for a shutdown — when producers begin to make their plans for next year’s planting season.”

Leahy added, “At a time when the rural economy is slowing, this shutdown means struggling communities that rely on USDA loans and grants for affordable housing, utilities, and small business activities are virtually left in the dark.”

He also noted that USDA’s infrastructure programs are closed down.

“Small, remote rural communities are unable to obtain assistance to construct or expand clean water and sanitary waste disposal systems. Small rural communities often lack adequate clean drinking water, leading to health and safety issues for residents,” he said.

Leahy also pointed out that under the trade aid package USDA has put forward the department plans to distribute $1.2 billion in commodities through The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides supplemental food to soup kitchens, food banks, and pantries.

“Help is needed to mitigate this influx of commodities, and this shutdown does not help,” Leahy said.

“With most of the Food and Nutrition Service employees currently furloughed, the agency is not able to provide the funding for transportation, distribution, or storage of these commodities. This is especially harmful to food banks that receive these commodities at a time when more families rely on their services – the winter months.”

On the Senate floor, Leahy said:

“Thanks to the shutdown, the U.S. Forest Service has curtailed forest thinning and fire prevention projects – despite the nation still reeling from and dealing with a record setting fire season — as well as closed visitor centers and reduced services at campgrounds.

“Just of a few days ago, the Farm Service Agency, which supports farmers and rural communities across the country, also shut their doors. With the passage of the 2018 farm bill, farmers and ranchers need information — right now, as a new growing season looms — on how the law will affect their operations heading into the planting year, but no one is in the office or staffing the phones to answer those questions or sign up producers for new programs.

“Farmers will also not be able to apply for much-needed loans. Many farmers, like those in my home state of Vermont, face financial hardship due to the dramatic drop in commodity prices brought on by the president’s tariffs, and they need loans to help pay bills and stay afloat through this winter, as well as to prepare for the spring planting.

“With banks not willing to lend to them, many rely on the U.S. Department of Agriculture as their lender of last resort. But for the foreseeable future they will not be able to apply for these loans because the offices are closed.

“And while the president loudly proclaimed he would provide assistance through the Market Facilitation Program to help farmers mitigate the financial losses caused by his tariffs, as of December 28th, there is no one left at USDA to process any new applications for these payments.

“The bottom line? Farmers have been left to fend for themselves while the president holds their safety nets hostage, to secure funding for his border wall.”