Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, September 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

UPDATE: Congress approved a stopgap bill late on Saturday, September 30, 2023, to keep the federal government open until mid-November. The bill will keep money flowing to government agencies and vital nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC as Congress continues negotiations over the 2024 federal budget.

With House Republicans delaying progress on 2024 budget negotiations under an October 1, 2023 deadline, the effects of a government shutdown if an agreement is not reached could be a swift and brutal blow to rural America, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

“The extreme Republicans pushing this… represent a small minority that don’t seem to care if the government shuts down,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a Daily Yonder interview. “Farmers, ranchers, and producers all across rural America are going to feel this.”

There are 12 appropriations bills that dictate spending for federal agencies that require annual approval from Congress. Negotiations over how much the government should spend is always a lengthy process, but this year especially so, as House Republicans quarrel over how much money should be allocated to agencies like the Department of Agriculture, Interior, Justice, and more. 

According to Vilsack frustration toward the group of Republicans stalling progress on this year’s budget is acute. And the drawn-out negotiations could mean spending will grind to a halt come this Sunday, October 1. 

Government support payments and loan applications for farmers would be put on pause, according to Vilsack. Benefits from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program could end as early as next week, and benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would dry out at the end of October

According to 2018 data from the Food Research and Action Center, rural Americans rely the most on SNAP benefits. Food banks would be the only other option for those who rely on these benefits, a support system not always accessible to the country’s most rural communities. 

The five-year Farm Bill is set to expire on October 1. Congress is likely to extend the lifespan of the bill until the end of 2023, but Vilsack warned that progress would be slow if policymakers are also contending with a government shutdown. 

“It slows [the Farm Bill] down because people aren’t there to work on it,” Vilsack said. “We’ll be focused on getting the government back open, and maintaining funding for the offices that service farmers and ranchers.” Commodity prices could skyrocket with a delayed Farm Bill, affecting food prices for consumers across the country. These are just some of the concerns at the top of policymakers’ minds as negotiations on the 2024 budget continue to stall. 

Thousands of federal employees could be furloughed come Monday without pay, national forests and parks would be closed, and new homebuyers would be unable to access loans. Many publicly funded assistance programs that require annual budget approval would halt payments if their money ran out during the shutdown as well. 

“It’s so unfortunate that a small handful of Republican extremists want this when no one else does,” Vilsack said. 

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