WASHINGTON (DTN) — If the government shuts down at midnight Friday, meat, poultry, egg, grain and other commodity and import inspections would continue, but most other agriculture-related USDA activities would be stopped, an Agriculture Department official told DTN.
If Congress and the administration do not reach a deal to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 by midnight Friday, the government would shut down except for essential services.
A shutdown now appears more likely. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said today that he expects a shutdown, according to a report in the National Journal. “He said he anticipates a shutdown. He was very solemn,” a constituent who had breakfast with Reid said, according to the report.
“We still believe there is an opportunity to avoid a government shutdown but are working to ensure that we are prepared for all possible scenarios,” the Agriculture Department official said in an email.
USDA’s operational plans are still being finalized, the official said, but in the event of a government shutdown most agency activities would come to a halt or be significantly reduced, and most USDA employees would 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 user fees). These include:
–Meat, poultry and egg inspection services;
–Grain and other commodity inspection, weighing and grading 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.;
–Forest Service law enforcement and fire suppression efforts.
American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle said in a statement that USDA has not informed AMI, which represents meat packers, if Food Safety and Inspection Service staff would be classified as “essential personnel,” which would allow them to continue to work.
“In previous government shutdowns, FSIS inspection personnel have been treated as ‘essential personnel,’” Boyle said. “This is appropriate because they play a critical role in protecting the health and safety of individuals. We urge the department to consider the significant, negative impact of treating inspectors as anything but essential.”
Boyle continued: “Because FSIS-regulated meat and poultry plants are required to have inspectors present to operate, a government shutdown that doesn’t classify FSIS inspectors as essential could affect 3.7 million people and their ability to work, and cause a loss of roughly $3 billion in economic activity per day if meat plants were not able to operate during the stoppage, according to estimates by economist John Dunham of John Dunham & Associates. The longer a shutdown is in place, the greater the negative impact throughout the meat and poultry supply chain and ancillary industries.”
In addition, funds have been made available to continue the Women, Infants and Children and Child Nutrition programs through June, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) has sufficient funding to allow benefits to continue through May.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters the food stamp benefits had already gone out for the month. But when asked whether the federal meat inspectors would be declared essential personnel and stay on the job, Vilsack was unwilling to discuss one segment of USDA employees separately from others, saying all will find out at the same time whether they will be able to work next Monday.
Vilsack said he and other administration officials are being very careful about making decisions about declaring employees “essential personnel.” Under the 1974 Budget Act, if the government shuts down, only personnel deemed “essential” are allowed to work. A senior administration official said on Thursday that means the military, law enforcement and those officials protecting property.
In regard to another government department that could affect the ag industry, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said in a news release that in the event of a government shutdown, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would continue flood preparation efforts in the Red River Valley.
Most other USDA activities would not be continued during a government shutdown. These activities include:
–Farm loans and other farm payments;
–Provision of conservation technical and financial assistance;
–Provision of new rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities and businesses;
–Agricultural export credit and other agricultural trade development and monitoring activities;
–National Forest System recreation sites across the U.S. would be closed to the public;
–Market news reports, National Agricultural Statistics Services work, and other agricultural economic and statistical reports and projections would be discontinued;
–Investigation of packers and stockyards related to fraudulent and anti-competitive activities;
–Assistance for the control of most plant and animal pests and diseases would be discontinued;
–Research facilities would be closed except for the care of animals and plants.
Most departmental management, administrative and oversight functions, including civil rights, human resources, financial management, audit, legal and information technology activities would be discontinued or severely curtailed.
If Congress does not agree to a bill to continue financing the government by Friday, a shutdown will go into effect at midnight. Congress and the administration are trying to reach agreement on a bill that will finance the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, but there has been talk about another short-term continuing resolution.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp