With no end in sight to the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, state officials are watching closely to see if they will need to act — somehow — to help Iowans.
Iowa’s leaders insist state programs are not in immediate danger.
However, states rely on federal funding for food assistance funding for low-income people, and the economic viability of farmers — already beset by trade wars — could suffer further as federal ag offices are unstaffed and unavailable to deal with requests for trade bail outs.
Congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump are at an impasse over his instance on adding more than $5 billion to the budget for a southern border wall.
GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds said her administration has processes in place to monitor and react to a federal government shutdown, drawn on experiences. The process is overseen by state Department of Management Director David Roederer, and Reynolds’ staff remains in contact with its legislative liaison in Washington, D.C.
“This isn’t the first government shutdown that we’ve experienced. (Roederer) is very familiar with the processes that we have in place,” Reynolds said. “He reaches out almost every day with the various agencies that are impacted to see where we’re at, what they think, how long they think they’re going to be able to provide especially the essential services. So we continue to monitor that on a daily basis, and we’ll make sure that we can find a way to provide the essential services that Iowans are counting on.”
Myriad issues could arise because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of the departments shuttered during the partial shutdown, which affects about a fourth of the government that had not yet been funded by Congress.
The food assistance program known as SNAP — or food stamps — is funded through the USDA. So is the program popularly known as WIC, which helps provide food and necessities for mothers and infant children.
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The USDA sent states enough funding to carry those programs through February. But with that only weeks away, low-income Americans will lose access to those programs if the shutdown lasts much longer.
More than 333,000 Iowans received SNAP benefits in September, the most recent data available. In fiscal 2016, the USDA provided more than $55 million to Iowa under the WIC program, which said that about 28,000 Iowa women and children were eligible.
“I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t assure Iowans that we’ll make sure that they can put food on the table if things in D.C. are still going horribly wrong. Iowans deserve to know that they’ll be able to feed their families,” said Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, the Democratic from Des Moines.
Iowa farmers counting on federal assistance offered to offset financial losses from federal trade negotiations may find themselves in limbo.
The Trump administration has been renegotiating multiple international trade deals with some of the country’s biggest trading partners, including Canada, Mexico and China. Those negotiations — and the retaliatory tariffs the disputes spawned — have contributed to falling crop prices. Soybean prices still are below the cost of production.
The administration announced it would make direct payments to farmers — with soybean farmers earmarked to get the most — to help offset the losses.
But with the USDA temporarily closed, new payments and new applications are in danger.
The department recently extended beyond this Tuesday the deadline to apply for payments — a deadline in flux and dependent on just how long the department remains closed.
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said he asked the administration to extend the deadline for farmers to certify their crop production and qualify for the bailout funds before USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the delay.
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About $5.2 billion in checks have gone out across the nation since the program began — including 360,000 payments worth $3 billion since the government shut down, according to a USDA spokesman. But farmers who did not certify their crop production before the shutdown began cannot do so until the government is running again since offices of the Farm Service Agency, which is administering the bailout, are closed.
Iowa’s state leaders implored federal representatives to work past their disagreements to end the shutdown.
State leaders from both major political parties said federal representatives should look to Iowa as a model for how government can work.
“Washington, D.C., probably needs to take a lesson from Iowa on how to actually serve its citizens in getting things done,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, the Republican from Clear Lake. “Elections are over. It’s time to get to work. ... We need people to get busy and solve their problems, find solutions, compromise and get this job done.”
The Washingon Post contributed.