U.S. farmers hit hardest by President Trump’s trade policies will continue to struggle thanks to the ongoing government shutdown.
Last week, the Agriculture Department announced a second round of direct payments from the $9.5 billion dollars earmarked for farmers most affected by the president’s ongoing trade war with China. But as the partial government shutdown stretches on, those payments will be put on hold.
While USDA assured farmers that payments will continue through the first week of the shutdown, “direct payments for farmers who haven’t certified production, as well as farm loans and disaster assistance programs, will be put on hold beginning next week, and won’t start up again until the government reopens,” according to the Associated Press.
The funds were set aside in September, when China levied retaliatory tariffs against soybean, corn, and wheat growers after the Trump administration imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese products — nearly half of all Chinese imports.
The nearly 49,000 farmers who have applied for the aid have cautioned the funding isn’t enough to offset the damage done by Trump’s trade war. After the tariffs against China went into effect, prices for products like soybeans dropped to a 10-year low.
Trump’s trade policies have continued to make life difficult for the nation’s farmers. More than 80 farms in the upper Midwest filed for bankruptcy between July 2017 and June 2018, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. During the same period in 2013 and 2014, that number was closer to 40. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. dairy farms has dropped by half since 2000, a downward trend exacerbated by the retaliatory tariffs on the U.S. dairy imposed by China and Mexico.
The government shutdown does not only affect farmers. It also threatens to impact other programs that assist struggling Americans during hard economic times.
According to federal officials, families who rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for their meals will likely be fine, but the shutdown has created a bureaucratic strain on the agency. As of Wednesday, only 5 percent of USDA’s office of Food and Nutrition Services is working.
Upwards of 800,000 federal employees are impacted by the shutdown, more than a third of all government staffers. Thousands of federal government employees, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, are working through the holidays with no pay.
“We’re sort of being held hostage in the middle, and we have families and obligations,” Dena Ivey, a single mother working in the Anchorage office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs told The New York Times. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make rent. I’m basically living on credit now.”
With President Trump refusing to budge on his multi-billion dollar demands for a border wall, the impasse is likely to continue into January, leaving many government workers concerned about how they will be able to make ends meet.