U.S. agriculture officials will temporarily reopen certain offices to perform limited services for farmers and ranchers.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that many Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices will reopen temporarily in the coming days to perform certain limited services for farmers and ranchers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recalled about 2,500 FSA employees to open offices on Thursday, January 17 and Friday, January 18, in addition to Tuesday, January 22, during normal business hours. The offices will be closed for the federal Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Monday, January 21.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta also offered his take on the issue in a statement from his office.
According to that statement: Congressman Panetta has repeatedly voted to reopen USDA and FDA. Last week’s House-passed bill included $1.625 billion for the Farm Service Agency for farm, conservation and emergency loan programs. Importantly, it prohibits the closure of FSA county offices and provides resources for IT improvements and personnel across county offices.
The shutdown continues to impact the FDA’s inspections of food processing facilities, as well, putting domestic consumers at risk.
Congressman Panetta said, “We cannot prolong this shut down any longer. We must open up the government immediately so that the federal workers at the FDA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, can get back to protecting consumers and supporting producers.”
The USDA press release notes that almost half of FSA locations and FSA staff will be available to assist agricultural producers 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 certain FSA offices to help producers with specific services, including:
• Processing payments made on or before December 31, 2018.
• Continuing expiring financing statements.
• Opening mail to identify priority items.
Additionally, as an intermittent incidental 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 producers.
Information on the locations of FSA offices to be open during this three-day window will be posted:
• On the USDA website.
• On USDA’s Facebook page.
While staff are available in person during this three-day window, most available services can be handled over the phone. Producers can begin contacting staff on January 17 here.
Additionally, farmers who have loan deadlines during the lapse in funding do not need to make payments until the government shutdown ends.
Other FSA Programs and Services
Reopened FSA offices will only be able to provide the 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 Market Facilitation Program (MFP).
• Certification of 2018 production for MFP payments.
• Dairy Margin Protection Program.
• Disaster assistance programs, such as:
o Livestock Indemnity Program.
o Emergency Conservation Program.
o Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program.
o Livestock Forage Disaster Program.
o Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish.
While January 15, 2019 had been the original deadline for producers to apply for MFP, farmers have been unable to apply since December 28, 2018, when FSA offices closed because of the lapse in federal funding. Secretary 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 MFP and certified their 2018 production by December 28, 2018 should have already received their payments.
More information on MFP is available at www.farmers.gov/manage/mfp.