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Trump’s Tariff Bailouts Would Probably be Delayed by USDA Shutdown

Federal meat inspectors would report to work as usual and the SNAP and WIC programs would stay in operation if there is a partial government shutdown at the end of this week, according to a USDA plan developed for the brief shutdown early this year. Offices running the farm program would be closed, which probably would mean that Trump tariff payments would be delayed until the government opened again.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue met White House officials at the end of last week to discuss release of a second round of the payments, intended to buffer the impact of trade war with China on U.S. agriculture. If a shutdown lasted long enough, it could interfere with the January 15 deadline for producers to sign up for the payments. Some $4.7 billion was available in the first round to producers of soybeans, sorghum, wheat, cotton, corn, hogs, and milk, with a separate payment limit of $125,000 per person for crops and for livestock. Growers with less than $900,000 adjusted gross income are eligible.

The USDA is among seven departments and an array of agencies, including the EPA, that would be affected by a shutdown because their funding runs out on Friday. The rest of the government is funded through September 30, 2019. President Trump has threatened a partial shutdown unless Congress passes a funding bill that includes $5 billion for a wall along the border with Mexico. “This is a fundamental issue,” said White House senior adviser Stephen Miller on Face the Nation, so the administration will do “whatever is necessary to build the wall.”

The USDA has not announced its plans for a shutdown, which would be the third in less than two years under Trump. But ahead of the January 20-22 shutdown, a USDA spokesperson said most of the department’s roughly 95,000 employees would be idled, while “excepted” employees would continue to work. The descriptions of who would work and who would stay home were similar to previous preparations.

“Excepted employees would continue to work,” said the spokesperson. “Examples of these continuing activities are meat, poultry, and egg inspecting services; Forest Service law enforcement and emergency and natural disaster response efforts; and inspections for import and export activities to prevent the introduction and dissemination of pests into and out of the United States.”

The Farm Service Agency, which pays farm subsidies, would be closed during a shutdown. So would the 155 national forests and grasslands.

In a nine-page contingency plan, the Food and Nutrition Service said in January that SNAP, WIC, and child nutrition programs, such as school lunch, are “core programs of the nutrition safety net” and “shall continue operations during a lapse in appropriations.” The USDA has a variety of sources to tap for funds during the interim.

Preparation for a shutdown would begin five days before a lapse in appropriations, according to a number of USDA agencies.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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