Vermont dairy farmers, already reeling from four years of bad milk prices, are suffering another blow as a result of the partial government shutdown.
The shutdown is the result of an impasse between President Trump and Democrats over funding a border wall with Mexico.
Leon Berthiaume, CEO of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, said Wednesday that because of the shutdown, farmers have yet to receive a federal payment due in December to help mitigate the impact of of tariffs.
Because of the trade barriers, and the impact they have on agriculture, there were two payments that were going to be paid, Berthiaume said. One was early this fall, he said, and the other was going to be paid in December.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is paying a total of $12 billion to all forms of agriculture in the country as a result of losses stemming from trade disputes with Canada, Mexico and China. Vermont dairy farmers are receiving the equivalent of 12 cents per 100 pounds of milk produced.
Berthiaume said that works out to about $3,600 for the average dairy farmer in the state, only half of which has been received. While the amount is less than dairy farmers had hoped for, Berthiaume said every little bit helps.
“Given the economics, every amount of payment is well-received,” he said.
The offices of the federal Farm Service Agency have also shut down, affecting farmers who have loans with the agency. In addition the USDA’s Rural Development agency makes home loans to many Vermonters who are not farmers. Those loans are now in limbo.
Good through March
Vermont’s secretary of administration, Susanne Young, said Wednesday the state drew down as many federal dollars as possible before the shutdown, and has enough cash to “continue our operations well through March and into April.”
Examples of the funds Young is referring to would be federal highway money and money to support the Medicaid fraud unit in the state Attorney General’s office.
While no immediate impact is being felt from the shutdown, Young said an extended shutdown could be problematic, for example, if the Agency of Natural Resources needed approval on rules and regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.
There are more than 3,000 federal employees in Vermont, but many of them will be unaffected by the shutdown. The largest number of federal employees in the state work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1,200 people, which is already funded for 2019, according to spokeswoman Katherine Tang.
“There will be no hiccups in the benefits and services for our veterans,” Tang said.
Vermont has a VA hospital in White River Junction.
Most employees of U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services are also unaffected, because their pay is funded exclusively by fees.
“However, the pay of a small group of USCIS employees is funded by appropriations,” said USCIS spokeswoman Anita Moore. “These employees work for the USCIS E-Verify program, and as such they have been furloughed due to the lapse in (the Department of Homeland Security’s) appropriation.”
The Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C., estimates 686 federal workers in Vermont are going without pay.
Welch says, reopen the government
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, who was sworn in for his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, said some of those workers going without pay are TSA personnel at Burlington International Airport, whom he has gotten to know well.
“I see those people every week, and get to talk to them,” Welch said. “This is tough. They’re not getting their paychecks and they have child care, fuel bills, rent and mortgages to pay. They’re getting caught in the crossfire here, which is very unfortunate, and unacceptable. They got dragged into a dispute over immigration and ‘the wall.'”
Welch said the House would pass legislation on Thursday to reopen the government that was previously supported by the Senate. He suggests Congress should pass budgets to open all governmental agencies with the exception of Homeland Security, which would be temporarily funded through early February while negotiations over what to do about the border and immigration reform continue.
“Nobody here, Republican or Democrat, is opposed to border security,” Welch said. “What is the best way to do it? Security experts will debate that. The president, unfortunately, has suggested we have a sea-to-shining-sea wall to answer all of our problems.”
Coast Guard paycheck uncertain
U.S. Coast Guard employees in Burlington were paid on Dec. 31, but their next paycheck on Jan. 15 won’t come unless the shutdown ends, said spokesman Andrew Barresi from Boston.
Barresi said all uniformed members of the Coast Guard are still reporting for work and performing “all essential duties,” including search and rescue operations.
“Ideally legislation gets passed and we get paid,” Barresi added.
Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT.