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Vilsack: Congress doing little to support USDA

Susan Carter with USDA contributed to this article.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says it’s difficult to understate the far-reaching impacts of the government shutdown on furloughing Department of Agriculture personnel.

Folks who were relying on government programs, who may not even have been aware that they were a government program, are now sensitive to the fact that USDA provides home loans, because there were homeowners who basically lost economic opportunity, lost an opportunity to buy a home, or in some cases were in a situation where they were going to have to pay a little bit more for the loan, because USDA wasn’t open, they were going to have to go to a different place. Well, now folks will have those opportunities for loans.
I think there was deep concern about our nutrition programs. School districts were very concerned that they weren’t going to be reimbursed and provide the financial resources to do the school lunch program, so they were stressed. There were young parents who take advantage of the Women, Infant and Children – the WIC program – who were deeply concerned when states basically put the word out that maybe WIC vouchers wouldn’t be honored. Business that were looking for loan opportunities, that was shut down for a period of time. . . You know, you just a whole host of things.
There were many producers around the country who had checks, they may have sold their livestock, they may have sold grain, but they had a loan with USDA, but they couldn’t cash the check, so their interest continued to accrue.

On January 15, the government could again find itself at a standstill over the national budget. Even beyond that deadline, the next three months will be critical for USDA.

Vilsack says currently, USDA’s budget is absent, a farm bill still forthcoming, and the agricultural workforce is stunted with no immigration reform from Congress. In light of that, Vilsack has informed his staff that the legislative branch will remain unpredictable. Through going back to their jobs and doing the kind of work that impacts rural America on just about every level, Vilsack hopes Congress will begin to understand the importance of adequate funding for USDA before the next fiscal deadline.