From the farm bill to grocery bills, the government shutdown is affecting how America eats
Stories from a shutdown—from food safety and hog nuisance lawsuits to EBT payments and "shutdown specials" at D.C. restaurants.
by New Food Economy
January 8th, 2019
On Twitter, federal employees and others affected by the ongoing government shutdown are sharing their #shutdownstories—and, not surprisingly, many of them are focused on food. That isn’t just because people anticipating missed paychecks are worried about their grocery bills, though concerns about hunger appear to be widespread. Many have described making tough choices between fuel, meals, and medical care.
And it goes beyond basic sustenance. A USDA science tech reported not being able to enter a government greenhouse to water plants, a setback she said would ultimately cost scientists a year of work. A woman about to close on a new house described being left in limbo, thanks to a USDA rural development loan now delayed indefinitely. (“The only wall(s) I care about are the ones that support the roof I want my children to be able to live under,” she wrote.) A farmer who moonlights as a federal contractor said the shutdown would “cost me $500 a day,” making it impossible to “hire, purchase and grow.” And at USDA headquarters, reports are that staff refrigerators are all but emptied out.
Here’s how the shutdown continues to affect:
Food safety. In a primer first reported by Food Safety News, Alliance for a Stronger FDA (ASFDA), a nonprofit advocate, explained that the shutdown may significantly affect oversight of the food supply. During the current “lapse period,” ASFDA wrote, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be hobbled, though still able to perform “activities necessary to address imminent threats to the safety of human life.” According to the document, 41 percent of FDA’s employees will be furloughed (about 7,000 people). While the agency’s most critical public health responsibilities won’t be affected—with staff on hand to handle key duties like emergency inspections and drug shortages—other, more routine work will be suspended. That could cause issues.
“Food safety will be particularly hard-hit, including the furloughing of workers in charge of routine inspections,” according to the document, though FDA will still be staffed to handle urgent and high-risk recalls and outbreaks of foodborne illness.
The brand-spanking-new farm bill. Congress spent most of 2018 intensely haggling over the farm bill. Then, two days after President Trump signed it into law on December 20, the government shut down. Now, says Anna Johnson, policy manager of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, “should be one of the busiest times at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): they have hundreds of pages of new marching orders in the new farm bill.” Instead of poring through those pages, though, some USDA employees are likely at home, reading People magazine.
Farm payments. There’s something of a 50/50 split here: some continue, others are on hold. Market Facilitation Program payments, for example, which relieve commodity producers whose access to export markets has been stymied by the recent retaliatory tariffs, will go out. So will payments related to conservation easements. But rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities, and businesses will not continue. Processing of payments for existing grants to support research, education, and agricultural extension services have been halted, too.
Native communities ...
Nuisance lawsuits ...
Free lunches ...
more, including links