USDA Finds Way to Reopen FSA

Beginning Thursday, FSA Offices Reopened Full Time, Restore More Services

USDA will reopen all of its Farm Service Agency offices on Thursday to service most existing programs for farmers, though the offices will be limited in how much they can help with signups for some programs. (DTN file photo by Russ Quinn)
By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) -- USDA will reopen all of its Farm Service Agency offices starting Thursday to provide a longer list of services for farmers.

In an announcement Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said USDA will temporarily recall more than 9,700 FSA employees to operate offices. FSA employees are not receiving pay, but USDA noted, "President Trump has already signed legislation that guarantees employees will receive all back pay missed during the lapse in funding."

USDA stated that, for now, FSA offices will be open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at least for the weeks of Jan. 28-Feb. 1 and Feb 4-8. Afterward, if USDA has not received its authorized funding through congressional appropriation, FSA will keep its offices open three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday.

Despite FSA offices being shut down since Dec. 28, USDA stated the White House Office of Management and Budget and USDA "reviewed all of its funding accounts that are not impacted by a lapse in appropriation." With that, USDA determined it was able to except more employees from furlough and provide services for mandatory, multiyear and no-year discretionary programs, including 2018 farm bill programs.

"At President Trump's direction, we have been working to alleviate the effects of the lapse in federal funding as best we can, and we are happy to announce the reopening of FSA offices for certain services," Perdue said. "The FSA provides vital support for farmers and ranchers and they count on those services being available. We want to offer as much assistance as possible until the partial government shutdown is resolved."

USDA also announced the deadline for the Market Facilitation Program application has been moved to Feb. 14. The program was the primary direct-aid payment program to farmers and livestock producers whose commodity products were hit by retaliatory tariffs.

"Other program deadlines may be modified and will be announced as they are addressed," USDA stated.

Certain FSA offices have been providing limited services for existing loans and tax documents since Jan. 17, and will continue to do so through Wednesday, Jan. 23, according to USDA. Beginning Thursday, Jan. 24, the department will open all FSA offices and expand services.

Under the new orders, FSA employees will be able to help farmers with the Market Facilitation Program, marketing loans, release of collateral warehouse receipts, Direct and Guaranteed Operating Loans, and emergency loans, service existing Conservation Reserve Program contracts, sugar price support loans, dairy Marketing Protection Program, Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage, Livestock Forage Disaster assistance, Emergency Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, Tree Assistance Program and wildfire and hurricane indemnity program payments.

Some programs not available include new program signups, including new Conservation Reserve Program contracts, new Direct and Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans, the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program, new or in-process Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program applications, as well as the Emergency Conservation Program, the Emergency Forest Rehabilitation Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Grassroots Source Water Protection Program.

Chris Clayton can be reached at chris.clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(AG/CZ)