The Agriculture Department (USDA) plans to reopen all Farm Service Agency offices for the duration of the partial government shutdown, on the same day a temporary plan to reopen select agency offices was set to expire.
Starting Thursday, more than 9,700 FSA employees will go back to work without pay. However, USDA in a press release Tuesday reminded newly exempt staff that President Donald Trump signed legislation guaranteeing back pay once the shutdown ends.
Last week, USDA notified more than 2,500 FSA employees to show up to work and staff about half of the agency’s offices from Jan. 17 through Jan. 22 — with the exception of Monday, a federal holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
“Certain FSA offices have been providing limited services for existing loans and tax documents since January 17, and will continue to do so through January 23,” USDA said in its press release.
Over the past three workdays, FSA employees have helped farmers and ranchers process existing farm loans, as well as give them their 1099 tax documents in time for the start of this year’s tax filing season.
All FSA offices will remain open Monday through Friday for the next two weeks. If the shutdown continues past Feb. 8, those offices will only stay open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to provide “additional administrative services.”
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue on Tuesday said the decision to keep all FSA field offices open is part of the agency effort to provide “as much assistance as possible” to its customers during the shutdown.
“At President Trump’s direction, we have been working to alleviate the effects of the lapse in federal funding as best we can, and we are happy to announce the reopening of FSA offices for certain services,” Perdue said in the press release.
Last week, at least half a dozen agencies issued memos calling previously furloughed employees back to work.
Nearly half the State Department’s domestic workforce and about a quarter of its diplomats stationed overseas reported back to work Tuesday.
Unlike most agencies, the State Department has promised to pay its employees for the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, the IRS has brought back an additional 36,000 employees to help process tax refunds once the filing season starts on Jan. 28. Under this updated contingency plan, about half of the agency’s workforce would work without pay.