Government

Some USDA programs on ice for now

Service centers, rural development hit by furloughs

Old Main is seen Nov. 15 at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant. Following financial troubles this fall, the university’s board of trustees has announced that the school will remain open for now. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development executives involved in the possible restructuring of a $21.5 million loan for the school are out on furlough. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Old Main is seen Nov. 15 at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant. Following financial troubles this fall, the university’s board of trustees has announced that the school will remain open for now. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development executives involved in the possible restructuring of a $21.5 million loan for the school are out on furlough. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Iowa State University’s federally supported Center for Agricultural and Rural Development remains in pursuit of its mission to conduct “innovative public policy and economic research on agricultural, environmental, and food issues,” according to interim Director John Crespi.

But the center has unpaid federal grants and outstanding grant applications. Crespi said the partial government shutdown has him wondering where those stand.

“For us, this is the time of year when we start getting news about the grants we have submitted, so we won’t hear about what is happening with those until after the shutdown ends,” he said.

The center, which goes by CARD, recently published research assessing the impact of U.S. trade disputes on Iowa — showing the state economy could suffer up to $2 billion over 12 months.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is closing every local and state farm service center across the country during the shutdown.

“Many farmers have had to rely on UDSA as their lender of last resort to help pay bills and stay afloat through this winter,” according to a statement from a union representing the workers. “Many farmers are already preparing for the spring planting and banks are not willing to lend to them, leaving USDA as their only hope.”

Employees at USDA’s office of Rural Development also are gone.

“I am on furlough without access to email, due to the lapse in federal government funding,” according to an automatic email reply from Grant D. Menke, rural development state director in Iowa. “I will return your message as soon as possible once funding has been restored.”

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His office’s community facilities direct loan program, which aims to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life in rural America, has awarded nearly $400 million to more than 150 projects in Iowa since 2016.

That includes a $21.5 million loan to help Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant stay afloat. School officials did not respond to questions Thursday about whether the government shutdown would affect its finances and plans to stay open for now.

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