Editor's Note: Just before midnight on Friday, Congressional leaders reached a budget agreement. The agreement will only extend government functions until Thursday, April 14th. Leaders say that the four day extension is to 'hammer out details'. So, while the immediacy of a shut down has eased, there is still no finalized budget agreement.
As we all heard on Friday, the government was looking down the neck of a probable shut down. Southern Farm Network spent some time with Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack discussing the functions of USDA that will go on, no matter what:
“Well, I think it is important for your listeners to understand that when a shut down occurs like this we are governed by the Anti- Deficiency Act which basically tells us what we have to continue doing and what we can no longer do legally. So, we have to continue to do those actions and steps which are fundamental to the safety of people and property. So, for that reason, meat inspections, for example, will continue. We’ll still do border reviews of food coming into this country to insure it is safe.”
But, as with most government entities, there will be parts of USDA that will be closed, and remain closed until congress reaches a budget resolution:
“On the other hand, when you go into a Farm Service Agency office to get your farm loan for the spring or you’re in a Rural Development office trying to get a loan to buy a home, those offices will not be open effective mid-night tonight unless there is a resolution.”
When a government shuts down, you don’t just turn off the lights and go home:
“No you don’t. No, you don’t. I mean there’s a whole process that you’ve got to go through and every agency is going through it. People are anxious and understandably so. There are a lot of folks who work for government or a lot of folks who are impacted by government services, that are living paycheck to paycheck and those paychecks are important. When they get disrupted or they don’t come it’s very, very tough. We’ve got an economy that is just now rebounding, we’re beginning to see the private sector add jobs and it seems to me we want to keep that momentum going.”
Vilsack explains that if in fact the government does have a shut down, the people that are furloughed during that time, may or may not get paid for those days that the government is closed:
“If Congress does not appropriate the money, they will not get paid. If they work, if they’re considered “excepted employees” because they are involved in something that involves safety of people or property, for example. If they’re in the military, for example, they will get paid eventually. But if you’re not in that category and Congress doesn’t appropriate the money, you’re out.”
And Vilsack says there’s an irony to all this:
“Well what’s really, I think… I’ve walked the halls here at the USDA just talking to regular folks today, just to get a sense of how anxious they were… and one of the things that came up repeatedly is the fact that they may not get a paycheck but Congress does and that’s one thing folks just don’t understand.”
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.