Average citizens may not notice any service interruptions due to the partial government shutdown, but local components of the United States Department of Agriculture will remain closed until the government reopens.
Calling the local Farm Services Agency in Marietta, which serves Love, Carter and Marshall County, will result in an answering machine message until the government shutdown concludes. Amy Hagerman, a state specialist in agricultural policy with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, described it as a “total standstill.”
“You have to understand, these employees don’t have the option of working, they’re just not getting paid,” Hagerman said. “They can’t check their email, can’t check their phones. It’s actually against the rules.”
Critical, non-exempt employees like inspectors and Department of Justice employees will remain working. They aren’t on furlough, but paychecks are often held as there’s no one to process them. Furloughed employees, on the other hand, stay home during the shutdown.
“A lot of your FSA people fall into that second category,” Hagerman said.
During the shutdown, the agencies can’t issue new commodity loans, disperse or collect said loans, or perform any other activities.
“A lot of our programs the USDA manages are crop-year programs,” Hagerman said.
She said the shutdown could impact sign-ups for 2019’s crop impact programs if it continues much longer.
“Those sign-ups go into January, but they could also be extended,” she said. “They’re kind of working around the shutdown.”
She said the partial budget passed in September did not include funding for the USDA. When the December deadline came and went, there was no more funding to fall back on.
Hagerman said, in addition, many agricultural producers use USDA data about prices and the current market to make decisions. She said no new data will be produced during the shutdown and added that the impact of the shutdown is hard to quantify, as everyone will be impacted differently.
“It’s going to vary by producer more than by industry,” Hagerman said. “There’s going to be some farmers effected more than others.”