Finance

USDA to recall more than 9,000 furloughed workers to provide farm aid

The Agriculture Department (USDA) on Tuesday announced it would call back to work more than 9,700 employees currently furloughed during the government shutdown to help provide financial assistance to farmers and ranchers.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement that the USDA would reopen all Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices starting Thursday, allowing farmers and ranchers to apply for loans and financial assistance.

Perdue also said the USDA would extend a deadline for farmers and ranchers harmed by retaliatory tariffs to apply for a special aid program announced by the Trump administration in July.

"The FSA provides vital support for farmers and ranchers and they count on those services being available," Perdue said in a statement. "We want to offer as much assistance as possible until the partial government shutdown is resolved."Reopening FSA offices will allow farmers and ranchers to receive benefits from 14 loan and subsidy programs that had been halted by the partial government shutdown, the USDA said.

The announcement is welcome news for a slew of small U.S. farms that have suffered from blowback to President Trump's trade battles and sagging commodity prices. But it also forces almost 10,000 federal employees sidelined during the shutdown, now in its 32nd day, to return to work unpaid.

More than 800,000 government employees are on track to miss their second paycheck if Trump and congressional Democrats fail to strike a miracle deal to end the shutdown by Tuesday at midnight.

The Trump administration has called back to work thousands of federal employees previously deemed "nonessential" to help ease some of the economic pain felt by Americans during the shutdown.

Democrats and left-leaning government watchdog groups have raised legal questions about the recalls and have blasted Trump for what they call an effort to prolong the shutdown. Two federal employees unions have also sued the Trump administration for forcing furloughed workers back to the office without pay.

"I have some questions about how the Administration is arbitrarily picking and choosing which agencies to reopen in the middle of the shutdown," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who represents a state with thousands of federal employees.

Warner on Tuesday introduced a bill that would automatically renew funding for all federal departments but the legislative branch and White House if Congress fails to reach a new deal. Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), have similar legislation.

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