Tag Archives: USDA

USDA to Continue SNAP Benefits

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The Department of Agriculture has come up with a plan and budget to ensure Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits continue to pay out through February.

“President Donald Trump directed the Office of Management and Budget and USDA to determine a way to fully fund all the SNAP through the month of February, and we will do just that,” Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

Brandon Lipps, acting Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services (FNCS) said the agency can keep providing benefits because of a provision in the last continuing resolution, allowing USDA program operations like SNAP and child nutrition programs to incur new obligations within 30 days of the continuing resolution’s expiration.

USDA has until January 20th to pay out February SNAP benefits.

“The funds that we’re advising you today that we will be using are appropriated from the continuing resolution that expired on December 21, and so will not need to be appropriated in a future bill,” Lipps said.

Section 110 of the resolution states “funds shall be available for entitlements and other mandatory payments under the 2008 Food and Nutrition Act until 30 days after the resolution expires.

USDA has also provided early SNAP benefits to states impacted by natural disasters and follows the same template to pay out benefits during the shutdown.

“If you look at the past hurricane seasons when states are aware that a hurricane is headed toward their state, they work with us to request the ability to issue their benefits early as a lot of people evacuate their state. They will want to take those benefits with them and use them wherever they go,” Lipps said. He went on to say that he knows “this is a time of great uncertainty and no doubt some anxiety for the people who rely on SNAP in dealing with tough times. I hope that it’s reassuring for us to make clear today that we’re committed to maintaining service to SNAP clients without interruption to the extent possible under the law.”

USDA has encouraged states to request early issuance of February SNAP benefits before the January 20th deadline.

New households can still sign up for SNAP benefits as well.

The department has also identified prior year-end funds that will allow Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs to operate through February.

USDA functions such as food safety inspections and national forest law enforcement remain in effect during the shutdown.

Perdue said the stopgap solution serves USDA’s motto of “Do right and feed everyone”.

“At the president’s direction, we’ve been working with OMB on this solution. It works and is legally sound, and we want to assure sates and SNAP recipients that the benefits for February will be provided,” Perdue said.

If the shutdown continues into February, its possible SNAP and WIC benefits could be disrupted for March.

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At Risk: Food Safety

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Hundreds of Food and Drug Administration inspectors are furloughed which means food inspections have been greatly reduced. The FDA oversees 80% of the food supply but has suspended all routine inspections of domestic food processing facilities.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is working on a plan to bring inspectors back as early as next week to inspect high-risk facilities. These facilities handle sensitive items such as seafood, soft cheese, vegetables, or have a history of problems. “We’re doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown,” he said.

A non-profit advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the lack of inspections is unacceptable. “That puts our food supply at risk,” Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the group said. “Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital.”

Foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million people each year in the United States and kill 3,000, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The FDA typically conducts about 160 routine food inspections per week, with about 1/3 involving high-risk processing facilities, Gottlieb said.

The inspectors look or problems such as unsanitary conditions, insect infestations, and salmonella/E. Coli contamination.

The agency is continuing to inspect foreign manufacturers, imports and domestic producers involved in recalls or outbreaks, and places where inspectors suspect there may be a problem.

Close to 60% of the FDA’s activities are funded by user fees, which have allowed the agency to continue many operations for now. However, most of its food-related work is paid for by appropriations, which have not yet been approved by Congress.

The United States Department of Agriculture inspects meat, poultry, and eggs and those inspections have continued.

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USDA Employees Soon May Be Relocated

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Agriculture Department Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans to move 2 subagencies out of the Washington, D.C. area. He said by the end of 2019, employees working for the Economic Research Service (ERS), currently under USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will relocate outside of D.C.

The 2 bureaus include about 700 employees, although it’s unclear how many will move.

“In our administration, we have looked critically at the way we do business, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the best service possible for our customers, and for the taxpayers of the United States,” Perdue said.  “In some cases, this has meant realigning some of our offices and functions, or even relocating them, in order to make more logical sense or provide more streamlined and efficient services.”

He also said he is realigning the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) to fall under the Office of the Secretary.

Perdue has been very assertive in reshaping his agency. Behind his OneUSDA initiative, he has been taking steps to promote more efficiencies and ensure the effectiveness of the agency. He consolidated the number of agency chief information officers, reduced the number of administrative functions and created more logical reporting structures.

He was also among one of the first agencies to cut back the number of days employees could telework and proposed a 9% cut in the size of the agency’s workforce and a $6 billion decrease in funding for FY2019.

USDA says there are 3 main reasons for moving these 2 offices outside of the D.C. area:

  1. To improve USDA’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities. The agency says they have experienced significant turnover in these positions, and it’s difficult to recruit employees to D.C.
  2. To place these important USDA resources closer to many of the stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the D.C. area.
  3. Finally, to benefit American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment cost and rent, which will allow more benefits from being retained in the long run, even with stricter budgets.

USDA hasn’t determined new locations of these offices and ERS/NIFA could be co-located.

Perdue also said no employees from either bureau will be involuntarily separated. “Every employee who wants to continue working will have an opportunity to do so, although that will mean moving to a new location for most. Employees will be offered relocation assistance and will receive the same base pay as before, and the locality pay for the new location,” USDA states. “For those who are interested, USDA is seeking approval from the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget for both Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments.”

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