USDA to reopen FSA offices for limited services during government shutdown

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 133 views 

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Wednesday (Jan. 16) that many Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices will reopen temporarily in the coming days to perform certain limited services for farmers and ranchers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recalled about 2,500 FSA employees to open offices on Thursday, (Jan. 17) and Friday, (Jan. 18) in addition to Tuesday, (Jan. 22) during normal business hours. The offices will be closed for the federal Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Monday (Jan. 21).

In almost half of FSA locations, FSA staff will be available to assist agricultural producers with existing farm loans and to ensure the agency provides 1099 tax documents to borrowers by the Internal Revenue Service’s deadline.

“Until Congress sends President Trump an appropriations bill in the form that he will sign, we are doing our best to minimize the impact of the partial federal funding lapse on America’s agricultural producers,” Perdue said. “We are bringing back part of our FSA team to help producers with existing farm loans. 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.”

Staff members will be available at certain FSA offices to help producers with specific services, including processing payments made on or before Dec. 31, 2018, continuing expiring financing statements, and opening mail to identify priority items. Additionally, as an intermittent incidental duty, staff may release proceeds from the sale of loan security by signing checks jointly payable to FSA that are brought to the county office by producers.

While staff are available in person during the three-day window, most available services can be handled over the phone. Producers can begin contacting staff on Jan. 17 here. Additionally, farmers who have loan deadlines during the lapse in funding do not need to make payments until the government shutdown ends.

Reopened FSA offices will only be able to provide the specifically identified services while open during this limited time. Services that will not be available include, but are not limited to, new direct or facility loans; new farm loan guarantees; new marketing assistance loans; new applications for Market Facilitation Program (MFP); certification of 2018 production for MFP payments; and Dairy Margin Protection Program.

While Jan. 15 had been the original deadline for producers to apply for MFP, farmers have been unable to apply since Dec. 28, 2018, when FSA offices closed because of the lapse in federal funding. Secretary Perdue has extended the MFP application deadline for a period of time equal to the number of business days FSA offices end up being closed, once the government shutdown ends.

These announced days of limited staff availability during the shutdown will not constitute days open in calculating the extension. Producers who already applied for MFP and certified their 2018 production by Dec. 28, 2018 should have already received their payments.

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