By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 4, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
VIRGINIA – Last last month, President Donald Trump announced an end to the 35-day partial government shutdown that left approximately 800,000 Federal workers without paychecks and led to a number of government departments operating with reduced staff, with some being asked to work without pay while others completely stopped operations as lawmakers tried to work out a deal.
Hours before that deal was made to reopen the government for three weeks as negotiations continued, Congressman Donald McEachin (D), who represents the Commonwealth’s Fourth Congressional District, which includes much of Dinwiddie, Prince George, Sussex, and Surry County, penned a letter to President Trump that discussed the shutdown’s impacts on local farmers, a topic of importance to McEachin given the mixture of urban and rural landscape that makes up the district.
“I wrote this letter because I know the hardworking farmers in my district and I see their struggles in the best of times,” the congressman said in his letter. “Now, with resources limited or not available, their job of feeding families in Virginia, and across the country, has been made unnecessarily more difficult. We need to open the government and end this shutdown now.”
That letter cites the story of a rural Virginia farmer named John Boyd, which was shared in a recent Washington Post article. Boyd, who operates a farm in Boydton, in Mecklenburg County, tells the newspaper that the shutdown affected his ability to operate his farm, with the support check from the United States Department of Agriculture being tied up due to the shutdown forcing offices to close until funding is restored, meaning he and his family are struggling to make ends meet in the present and the future as he’s unable to plant more seeds without the funds.
“This shutdown is really affecting us dramatically,” he told The Washington Post. “We’re not in financial shape to miss a whole planting season. Congress needs to address this — with the urgency of now.”
With the ongoing trade war with China resulting in the country going from being one of America’s largest purchasers of soybeans to near zero, many farmers were left in a troubling position. As a result, the Federal government, namely the USDA, in August of last year announced they planned to provide upwards of $12 billion in assistance to the country’s agricultural industry.
According to business news network CNBC, soybean farmers were poised to receive the largest amount of support, nearly $5 billion in assistance. For many farmers, the checks have become a lifeline.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call following that announcement, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said they “always knew that agriculture would be the tip of the spear if other nations decided to retaliate,” adding, “We also knew the economic pressure was already there for farmers, even without these unfair trade tariffs.”
Those payments to farmers are made through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, which was among a number of agencies affected by the month-long shutdown, leaving farmers without that support vessel.
“Many FSA-administered services and supports—including help with critically important loans, disaster relief, and conservation assistance—are still not being provided. Other crucial resources, including crop reports that farmers use to help make planting decisions, are likewise unavailable,” Congressman McEachin said in his letter hours before a deal was made to reopen the government.
“Just as farmers need and deserve certainty,” he continued, “so too do federal workers; these dedicated public servants should not have to worry about how they are going to make rent, put food on the table, or meet other basic needs for themselves and their families. In the face of such harms, continuing this shutdown is unacceptable—and unsustainable.”
Prior to the shutdown, the USDA did recall 2,500 workers to help to try and continue FSA’s efforts but, for McEachin, that effort wasn’t enough to address the problems caused by the shutdown.
“In the face of such serious problems, the Department of Agriculture’s recall … of 2,500 workers was an inadequate fix,” he said. “That move re-opened just under half of the nation’s 2,100 Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices; those offices were originally to open only for a three-day window, and to offer only a subset of the services that are available under normal conditions.”
McEachin continued, “Secretary Perdue’s announcement … that all offices would re-open on Thursday, and that they would offer a greater range of services, was therefore welcome news for farmers; even so, many FSA-administered services and supports—including help with critically important loans, disaster relief, and conservation assistance—are still not being provided. Other crucial resources, including crop reports that farmers use to help make planting decisions, are likewise unavailable.”
He added that the limited services that were delivered during the shutdown were only possible “because thousands of federal employees, at the FSA and elsewhere, continue to do their jobs without the benefit of regular pay.”
“Just as farmers need and deserve certainty, so too do federal workers; these dedicated public servants should not have to worry about how they are going to make rent, put food on the table, or meet other basic needs for themselves and their families,” McEachin said.
Just hours after McEachin’s letter was released, President Trump announced the re-opening of the government as efforts to work out a long-term deal continue. Later that day, USDA Secretary Perdue issued a statement, saying the shutdown’s end is “welcome news, as it will bring thousands of our employees back to work and return us to our mission of providing our customers with the services they rely upon.”
“The President has already signed legislation that guarantees backpay for all employees, and we will move forward on that as soon as possible,” he said. “Meanwhile, we will prepare for a smooth reestablishment of USDA functions.”
Prior to the shutdown’s end, local officials expressed their intentions to ask lawmakers in Washington to come to some form of compromise to allow the government to fully operate again. In Dinwiddie, the board of supervisors tasked staff with drafting a letter that would be sent to Virginia’s Congressional delegation asking for an end to the shutdown.
As of this report, it is unknown if that letter will still be sent in light of last Friday’s developments but, in an interview following January’s board meeting, Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill explained the impacts of the shutdown on the county’s operations.
“The largest extent, for us, has been our services and benefits that have a direct tie to the Federal government,” he said. “Most of those for Dinwiddie County is specifically related to social services. On Jan. 16, people had to get their applications in for the month of March for food assistance through SNAP (formerly, the Food Stamps Program), so I already had to authorize overtime so that we can process the influx of those that would be coming in to make sure we can get those taken care of in a timely fashion.”
Massengill added, “We are not heavily weighed with Federal employees in Dinwiddie County. If the military were more affected, that would then be an issue for us, but I think from what Supervisor [Harrison] Moody indicated is just to encourage both sides to sit down and try to agree in order to get things back moving again.”
As of last week, President Trump signed legislation to reopen and fund the government through February 15.