US farmers had to wait for weeks for the tariff relief promised by President Trump. The White House was at the time engaged with lawmakers on border security. It seemed like this crucial issue had taken a back seat. There is still no confirmation yet whether the farmers will get the relief or not. Thousands had signed up for the support program this winter. They were hoping the money would help offset their big losses that were brought about by the president’s trade policies.
The bailout program announced by the White House was to roll out $12 billion in funding but the recent partial government shutdown, the longest in US history, appeared to derail it. The program dubbed the Market Facilitation Program had received more than 37,000 applications from US farmers across the country. However, these applications were not processed. The Department of Agriculture, which was supposed to run the program, was one of eight cabinet-level agencies that were affected by the shutdown in December.
All these applications started to get the attention of the Department of Agriculture when local Farm Service Agency offices started to open in various states soon after the shutdown. Even though farmers who had applied before the shutdown could still get some financial support from the Market Facilitation Program, many were still unable to apply during this period. Farmers who turned in their application late last year had to wait weeks for their applications to be processed. For something that typically takes a week, it was a huge delay.
Many farmers noted that this was money they were really counting on and the delay had a huge negative effect on their finances. In Iowa, for example, over 4,000 farmers had to wait for weeks to get the tariff aid promised by the president. Illinois, on the other hand, had 5,000 delayed farmers while Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, Minnesota, and Missouri had over 2,000 farmers affected by the shutdown. In addition to this, the shutdown also affected several other USDA programs. The timing of the shutdown couldn’t be worse. This was a period where many farmers had been struggling with declining prices, loss of market due to tariffs, and harsh weather conditions. Lack of government support during this crucial period seems to have had a negative effect on many.
In order to soften the blow dealt to farmers as a result of the shutdown, the USDA decided to extend the application deadline for the support program. Additional staff was also sent to numerous offices to try to address the backlog of applications that had already piled up. The government paid interest to farmers whose Market Facilitation Program applications had been delayed by more than 30 days.
Despite this, the pain in the US farm belt continues to be felt as a result of protectionist trade policies from the White House. These states were crucial in propelling Trump to victory. How the president deals with this situation could have a massive impact on his chances to get reelected in 2020. But things are not looking good. American agricultural exports are expected to drop by another $2 billion in 2019.