Ag Policy Blog

Shutdown: A Washington Christmas Story

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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'Twas the Friday eve before Christmas and throughout the federal government people were shutting down their workspaces with care. They saw notices were posted in coffee rooms and in emails everywhere.

Your job might be needed next week, so have a great holiday. But we can't guarantee you'll get to come back, so watch C-SPAN and see.

Senators were still talking it out at 6 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Central on Friday as their flights back home left without them. Down the street the president was still tweeting about steel slat barriers that work as a wall, as he waited to see if McConnell or Schumer would call. https://twitter.com/…

And that's where we stand as people in Washington once again forgot the reason for the season, and everyone else waited just to hear the words, "Merry Christmas to All."

USDA Shutdown Plans

USDA released details Friday for how it will or will not work next week after Christmas.

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, multi-year 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.

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 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 and 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 (CN) Programs, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and 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 FY 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 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 fuels reduction activities in and around communities.

- NASS statistics, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, and other agricultural economic and statistical reports and projections.

- Investigation of packers and stockyards related to fraudulent and anti-competitive 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.

- 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, and disaster assistance programs).

Summary of USDA's shutdown plans: https://www.usda.gov/…

Agency by agency details: https://www.usda.gov/…

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

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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