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How The Government Shutdown Hits Rural America


Negotiations continue over the partial shutdown of the U.S. government. It's been two weeks now, no sign of things opening back up. The impact is especially sharp in rural America. The Department of Agriculture operates farm support programs, like subsidized home loans, loans that are not being processed. Iowa Public Radio's Amy Mayer reports.

AMY MAYER, BYLINE: Darecia Porter and her husband live in rural Tennessee. They have good credit and good jobs, but what they don't have is $30,000 sitting in the bank for a down payment on a house. USDA offers mortgages aimed at people like them. They got approved, picked out a house and had their offer accepted. A local USDA employee was working with them to finalize the loan details. Then in late December, Porter learned of the possible shutdown.

DARECIA PORTER: I messaged her. And I was just like, hypothetically speaking - and I was like, hey, if the shutdown happens, are you all affected by it? And she messaged me back and said, yeah, oh, yes, we are most definitely affected by it.

MAYER: Porter received the final loan paperwork she needed to sign on December 19. That was the last she's heard from anyone at USDA. The contract deadline on her house came and went. Meanwhile, farmers are facing a range of hiccups because farm service agency offices are closed. Northwest Iowa farmer Bruce Rohwer grows soybeans and corn and raises hogs. He's eligible for tariff relief payments but didn't get all his data submitted until the very end of December.

BRUCE ROHWER: I'm running a little behind. I'm not quite sure when that payment will actually come.

MAYER: But that's not his biggest concern. USDA puts out a supply and demand estimate in January that Rohwer says is critical for farm planning.

ROHWER: The cash flow situation in agriculture is really quite dire. The ability to try to find ways in which to increase the cash that you are going to receive for your crop becomes ever more important.

MAYER: The report was scheduled for next week. But it's among the many services now blocked by the shutdown. Rohwer says without it, farmers won't have the details they rely on when deciding exactly how many acres of which crops to plant. And that could mean the difference between profit and loss. Brent Renner farms a couple of hours east of Rohwer. His tariff relief money was direct deposited after the shutdown began. Still, he says, USDA has so many different programs, it's likely some farmers are already suffering.

BRENT RENNER: There's probably somewhere in the nation that has a different program that is critical at this time of year that is affecting somebody directly. But I would say for most of us in Iowa, we're not freaking out yet.

MAYER: That may change if the shutdown stretches on and on. For NPR News, I'm Amy Mayer.

SIMON: That story comes to us from Harvest Public Media, a reporting project in the Midwest and Plains. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.