What’s more essential than eating?

Mark Keating's picture

One unfortunate misperception helping to sustain the current government shutdown is the assumption that since all “essential” federal employees remain on the job, Washington can meet its “essential” responsibilities. A closer look at USDA’s current capabilities reveals that nothing could be further from the truth and that the shutdown is inflicting immediate and lasting damage.

According to the Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1,423 farmers are waiting for Congress to pass a budget so that they can receive USDA direct farm operating loans that have already been approved for 2013. An additional 2,161 families have deferred their dream of farm ownership as they wait for funding of approved direct farm ownership loans, and an additional 1,005 are waiting on guaranteed ownership loans. No progress can be made on these loans until Congress funds the return of the “non-essential” USDA staffers to complete the paperwork.

The USDA is the lender of last recourse for all these loans, meaning that the recipients have exhausted their ability to receive credit directly from a bank. Try explaining to these 3,000+ family farmers that their future in agriculture is not “essential” for their well-being, and ultimately for that of everyone who depends on their success.

A lingering government shutdown also imposes a very dire threat to the organic community. Last week before it closed, the National Organic Program (NOP) announced that, unless the government shutdown is resolved by October 10th, it would have to cancel the upcoming National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting scheduled for Louisville, KY. There is no denying that the NOSB provides absolutely “essential” service to USDA – for example, no synthetic materials are allowed in organic production and handling without its approval.  With both the NOP and the NOSB indefinitely sidetracked by the shutdown, organic commerce will gradually grind to a halt.

Perhaps those who are backing the government shutdown can explain to the rest of us what is more “essential” than eating.

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