USDA opens local offices for three days to work on existing farm loans

About half of the USDA’s local offices will be open for three days, beginning Thursday, to deal with existing farm loans and provide IRS Form 1099 tax documents to farmers and ranchers. The USDA said workers will not consider applications for new loans, the new dairy support program, disaster relief, or Trump tariff payments.

About 2,500 Farm Service Agency employees were called to work without pay at the USDA’s so-called county offices today, Friday, and next Tuesday. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “We are doing our best to minimize the impact of the partial federal funding lapse on America’s agricultural producers. … Meanwhile, we continue to examine our legal authorities to ensure we are providing services to our customers to the greatest extent possible during the shutdown.”

The USDA used a budget loophole to guarantee SNAP benefits through February, but it has been silent on food stamps after that. “We better start thinking about March 1,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, meaning both Congress and the administration. “You better have something ready for [39] million people that might not get food stamps after March 1.”

In announcing the brief reopening of offices, the USDA said farmers who have loan deadlines during the shutdown do not have to make payments until the government is fully funded. Earlier it extended the deadline for producers to apply for a share of the up to $9.6 billion in Trump tariff payments.

“The impacts of this shutdown are real,” said Jeff Witte, president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, which is urging President Trump and Congress to reopen the government. “Not only are farmers and ranchers unable to use a host of existing USDA programs they depend on, they also can’t use important programs they need now from the recently enacted farm bill.”

As an example, Delaware agriculture secretary Michael Scuse pointed to expanded supports for dairy farmers in the new farm policy law. “The sooner the new Margin Coverage Program can be implemented, the better off it’s going to be for dairy farmers in Delaware and across the nation,” he said.

The Safe Food Coalition, a collection of consumer groups, said the government shutdown could result in an increase in food-borne illness. USDA meat inspectors are working without pay during the shutdown, while the FDA is concentrating on high-risk food processing plants. About two-thirds of the FDA’s usual inspections are not currently being performed. “The shutdown does not mean consumers should panic: The chances of any specific food you may eat being impacted by the shutdown are still very small,” said the coalition. “But as the shutdown drags on, more and more people will be eating food from facilities that are not seeing the same level of oversight, a fact that should concern all Americans.”