Agriculture Department reopens briefly to assist farmers hurt by shutdown

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The Department of Agriculture has briefly reopened to assist farmers harmed by the partial government shutdown.

The agency said in a press release Wednesday that about 2,500 Farm Service Agency employees, or about half of that office's staff, have returned to perform limited services for farmers and ranchers. The office will be open Thursday, Friday and Tuesday.

Staff will be available to assist agricultural producers with existing farm loans. American Banker reported earlier this week that the shutdown is restricting cash flow to farmers by pausing pending government-backed loan applications and other subsidies.

Farmers will not be allowed to work on new direct or government-guaranteed farm loans during the shutdown, the release said.

FSA employees will also help make sure the agency provide borrowers with 1099 forms ahead of the Internal Revenue Service’s deadline. In addition, staff will process payments made on or before Dec. 31, continue expiring financing statements and open mail to identify priority items.

“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,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in the release.

“We are bringing back part of our FSA team to help producers with existing farm loans," Perdue added. "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.”

The Agriculture Department also clarified that farmers with loan deadlines do not need to make payments until the shutdown ends.

Perdue also extended the application deadline for the Market Facilitation Program for a period of time equal to the number of business days that FSA offices end up being closed, once the government shutdown ends, the release said.

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