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Government shutdown brings partial USDA functions

An estimated 61% of USDA employees would either be exempted or excepted from shutdown activities.

As the government shutdown becomes reality, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue detailed which functions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will remain available in the event of a lapse in government funding. An estimated 61% of USDA employees, including those in the Agricultural Marketing Service, which provides, through the Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting, information on sales to packers of cattle, swine and lambs and on the sale of meat products, and the Food Safety & Inspection Service, which conducts meat inspections, are deemed essential personnel.

Friday night at midnight, funding expired for both USDA and the Food & Drug Administration, which are funded through the agriculture appropriations bill. At the same time, all parts of the government funded under the six additional outstanding fiscal 2019 appropriations bills will be affected by the partial shutdown – in total, nine departments and several agencies.

President Donald Trump’s demand that any spending package include $5 billion to begin building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border held up any deal being reached before the Dec. 21 deadline. The President has requested that these funds be allocated within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security spending bill, one of the seven remaining bills. Trump earlier threatened in a tweet, "If [Democrats] vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time."

“There may be a lapse in funding for the federal government, but that will not relieve USDA of its responsibilities for safeguarding life and property through the critical services we provide,” Perdue said. “Our employees work hard every day to benefit our customers and the farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers who depend on our programs. During a shutdown, we will leverage our existing resources as best we can to continue to provide the top-notch service people expect.”

Some USDA activities will be shut down or significantly reduced, and some USDA employees will be furloughed. However, certain USDA activities would continue because they are related to law enforcement, the protection of life and property or are financed through available funding (such as through mandatory appropriations, multiyear discretionary funding or user fees). For the first week of a potential shutdown, 61% of employees would either be exempted or excepted from shutdown activities. If the shutdown continues, this percentage would decrease, and activities would be reduced as available funding decreases.

Perdue said USDA activities that would continue in the short term include:

  • Meat, poultry and processed egg inspection services.
  • Grain and other commodity inspection, weighing, grading and information technology (IT) support services funded by user fees.
  • Inspections for import and export activities to prevent the introduction and dissemination of pests into and out of the U.S., including inspections from Hawaii and Puerto Rico to the mainland.
  • Forest Service law enforcement, emergency and natural disaster response and national defense preparedness efforts.
  • Forest Service employees will continue to work on managing and maintaining the current forest system lands and sustaining the health and safety of the lands for their continued use.
  • Continuity and maintenance of some research measurements and research-related infrastructure, such as germplasm, seed storage and greenhouses.
  • Care for animals, plants and associated infrastructure to preserve agricultural research and to comply with the Wild Horses & Burros statute.
  • Eligible households will still receive monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for January.
  • Most other domestic nutrition assistance programs, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, WIC and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, can continue to operate at the state and local level with any funding and commodity resources that remain available. Additional federal funds and commodities will not be provided during the period of the lapse.
  • The Child Nutrition Programs, including school lunch, school breakfast, Child & Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk will continue operations into February. Meal providers are paid on a reimbursement basis 30 days after the end of the service month. Carryover funding will be available during a lapse to support fiscal 2019 meal service.
  • Minimal administrative and management support, including to excepted IT systems and contracts, will be maintained to support the above activities.
  • Provision of conservation technical and financial assistance (such as the Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and easement programs).
  • Some farm payments (including direct payments, market assistance loans, market facilitation payments and disaster assistance programs) will be continued for the first week of a shutdown.
  • Market Facilitation Program payments.
  • Trade mitigation purchases made by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
  • Agricultural export credit and other agricultural trade development and monitoring activities.
  • USDA’s Market News Service, which provides critically important market information to the agricultural industry.

The following USDA activities would not be continued and would be shut down in an orderly fashion during a government funding lapse. These activities include:

  • Provision of new rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities and businesses.
  • All recreation sites across the U.S. National Forest System, unless they are operated by external parties under a recreational special use permit.
  • New timber sales.
  • Most forest fuel reduction activities in and around communities.
  • National Agricultural Statistics Service statistics, "World Agricultural Supply & Demand Estimates" reports and other agricultural economic and statistical reports and projections.
  • Investigation of packers and stockyards related to fraudulent and anticompetitive activities.
  • Assistance for the control of most plant and animal pests and diseases unless funded by cooperators or other non-appropriated sources.
  • Research facilities except for the care for animals, plants and associated infrastructure to preserve agricultural research.
  • Provision of new grants or processing of payments for existing grants to support research, education and extension.
  • Economic Research Service (ERS) commodity outlook reports, data products, research reports, staff analysis, and projections. The ERS public website would be taken offline.
  • Most departmental management, administrative and oversight functions, including civil rights, human resources, financial management, audit, investigative, legal and information technology activities.
  • Mandatory audits (financial statements, FISMA and potentially improper payments) will be suspended and may not be completed and released on the date mandated by law.
  • After the first week, farm loans and some farm payments (including direct payments, market assistance loans, market facilitation payments for those producers who have not certified production and disaster assistance programs).

A summary of USDA’s shutdown plans can be found here.

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