A Kentucky farmer is calling on Republican Congressman Andy Barr to support a “clean” spending bill to end the government shutdown.
The demand comes as agriculture issues such as the farm bill are being put on hold and farming advocates wonder how long federal resources and services will be pulled.
As government operations begin to slow, around 1,400 small family farmers across the country await lawmakers to pass a budget to receive USDA direct operating loans that were previously. Even more are waiting on ownership loans and enrollment in conservation initiatives such as the Healthy Forests Reserve Program.
Stewart Gritton is a farmer who lives in Anderson County who ran for Kentucky agriculture commissioner as a Democrat.
He says vital programs that help farmers in the state are being stalled or closed due to the stalemate in Washington.
“The Farm Services Agency which assists farmers in many, many programs has 300 employees who are furloughed. We have 64 field offices shut down in Kentucky right now,” says Gritton. “And (Congressman Barr) needs to realize that his actions are not just effecting him or the big business in Lexington where he's from, but it's effecting the smaller people in the farming communities all across this state.”
There are reports that at least 20 Republican lawmakers would be willing to support such a plan and join the Democrats’ 200-member caucus.
But like GOP leaders in the House, Barr is rejecting that idea until negotiations over the health care law begin.
“Congressman Barr continues to disagree with the refusal of President Obama and the Senate to negotiate on shutting down the government, just so they can keep their special exemption from Obamacare,” Barr's chief of staff Betsy Hawkings told WFPL in an e-mail. “He believes the best path forward in divided government is to negotiate, and has voted for 16 separate provisions that would fund the government, fund critical parts of the government or otherwise keep the government open since September 20.”
One key piece of legislation that has been neglected during the shutdown debate is the expiration of the 2008 farm bill, which would have provided things such as insurance for livestock and doubled funding to reduce wildfire threats in areas hit by heavy drought.
Farming advocates in the state tell WFPL producers have yet to see the impact of the shutdown directly, however. Rather, there is a larger concern about the delayed agriculture agenda as a result of the impasse.
“There are concerns that Congress needs to deal with immigration (reform) and the farm bill, and that continues to be something most farmer in Kentucky talk about,” says David Beck, executive vice president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau. “There may be concerns about field offices closing, technical information and its availability, but most concerns fall back to how long will this last and when will Congress start dealing with immigration and the farm bill. Farmers as they're harvesting this crop are thinking about the next year. And that will be something that is on their mind.”
Beck points out important federal safety measures such as food inspectors have been deemed essential personnel and consumers are still protected.