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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, January 09, 2019 1:00 am

Government shutdown stalls farm bailout

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The government shutdown has stalled President Donald Trump's program to send billions of dollars to farmers hurt by the trade war with China as the Agriculture Department office responsible for administering the payouts is closed for lack of funding.

On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the department has extended the deadline for farmers to apply for bailout payments. The application window was slated to close Jan. 15, but Perdue said Tuesday that the deadline will be extended, at minimum, weeks after the shutdown ends.

The extension is one of a string of actions taken by the administration to limit the pain inflicted by the federal shutdown, even as the extended lapse in funding brings to a halt an increasing range of government functions.

The move also reflects the administration's attempt to protect a U.S. agriculture community hurt by the downturn in commodity prices caused in part by Trump's trade war with China. Soybean-producing counties went for Trump by a margin of more than 12 percent, a Washington Post analysis last year found.

The shutdown caused the Agriculture Department to run out of money Dec. 28 to keep Farm Service Agency offices open.

“Using existing funds, we were able to keep FSA offices open as long as possible, but unfortunately had to close them when funding ran out,” Perdue said in a statement. “We will therefore extend the application deadline for a period of time equal to the number of business days FSA offices were closed, once the government shutdown ends.”

Amid criticism from Republican farm state lawmakers on the impact of its trade war with China, the Trump administration this summer unilaterally authorized up to $12 billion in bailout payments to farmers. China has slapped retaliatory tariffs on a range of U.S. exports, including agricultural products, amid the wider trade spat.