An announcement Wednesday from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue promised farmers should be able to conduct pressing business at their local Farm Service Agency office over a three-day period in spite of the government shutdown. However, access to the Statesboro FSA was limited Thursday despite the location being listed as one of the offices to open.
Calls throughout the day to the Statesboro FSA office were not answered except by voicemail, with the message telling callers the office was closed and employees were on furlough due to the shutdown. The message further explained that voicemail and email messages would not be received until the shutdown is over.
But Wednesday, Perdue announced that many FSA offices will reopen temporarily. The Statesboro FSA office was listed as being open on a limited basis for three days — Jan. 17, Jan. 18 and Jan. 22 — “to perform certain limited services for farmers and ranchers.”
The statement released Wednesday read: “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.”
The Statesboro Herald acquired a copy of a memo sent to FSA employees stating they were not to talk to the media. The memo read: “All media inquiries regarding the shutdown are to be directed to John Shea (email@example.com) and Brad Fisher (Brad.Fisher@wdc.usda.gov) with a cc to Suzanne Pender (Suzanne.Pender@wdc.usda.gov) with the Office of Communications.
All FSA employees are prohibited from corresponding with media outlets regarding during any portion of the shutdown or 3-day work period.”
Emails sent to these addresses Thursday were not immediately answered.
Employees of other offices in the Bulloch County Center for Agriculture told the Herald Thursday that there were few employees in the FSA office and that it did not appear they were open all day.
Perdue said FSA staff in offices
that are to temporarily open “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
“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,” he 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.”
A listing of FSA offices that are supposed to be open during this brief time may be seen online at www.farmers.gov/sites/default/files/documents/OpenFSAServiceCenter.
Services offered are said to include processing payments made on or before Dec. 31, 2018; continuing expiring financing statements; and opening mail to identify priority items.
Also, staff may, “as an intermittent incidental duty,” release proceeds from the sale of loan security by signing checks jointly payable to FSA that are brought to the county office by producers, the statement read.
The statement from Perdue also said “farmers who have loan deadlines during the lapse in funding do not need to make payments until the government shutdown ends.”
Information on the locations of FSA offices to be open during this three-day window will also be posted on the USDA website, on Twitter at @SecretarySonny and @USDA, and on the USDA’s Facebook page.
Perdue’s statement said farmers can conduct much of their business by phone; however, several calls throughout the day to the Statesboro FSA office resulted in a voicemail message announcing employees were on furlough.
While Jan. 15 was the original deadline for producers to apply for the Market Facilitation Program, farmers have been unable to apply since Dec. 28, 2018, due to the shutdown.
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.
Those who already applied for MFP and certified their 2018 production by Dec. 28, 2018, should have already received their payments, he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.