US co-op movement measures the cost of Trump’s government shutdown

‘While the government is shut down, we are unable to access needed resources as part of our contracts and agreements with the USDA agencies’

With the US nearly three weeks into its government shutdown, the country’s co-op movement is assessing the impact on its operations.

The shutdown began at midnight on 22 December after the Senate refused to approve funding for president Donald Trump’s wall along the Mexican border. This has left 800,000 federal employees without pay, and the country’s credit unions have had to take measures to support members affected by the situation.

With Trump threatening to continue the shutdown for several months, agriculture co-ops are among those counting the cost, with the country’s farmers waiting for payments, loans and disaster assistance funds, compensation for losses from the trade war, and funding for conservation programmes.

Now farmers are turning to organisations such as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which supports black farmers, co-ops, credit unions, and community groups across the rural south, for help, news website the Skanner reported.

The federation’s co-ordinator for Georgia, Cornelius Key, said: “Small farmers that normally submit farm loan applications in December and January can’t submit loans at the moment. The shutdown will have a domino effect as it ultimately leads to a decreased harvest, greater farm debt, and loan defaults that could translate to land and farm losses.”

The federation’s executive director Cornelius Blanding said the Department of Agriculture was a crucial partner, adding: “While the government is shut down, we are unable to access needed resources as part of our contracts and agreements with the USDA agencies and continue to provide valuable education, outreach, and technical assistance to our membership.

“The shutdown also makes it difficult to fulfil the financial obligations the federation has to its staff, partners and vendors. We would like the president and Congress to understand the crippling effect of this shutdown.”

Meanwhile, NCBA Clusa, the apex body for US co-ops, has been assessing the potential impact on domestic and international co-operative development projects.

Funding for programmes like the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) is currently unaffected, but the shutdown could end up slowing down the loan disbursement process, it warns.

Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA Clusa, said: “We know that the shutdown is already affecting hundreds of thousands of federal employees, including some of those responsible for implementing essential diplomatic and development programmes.

“Right now, we do not expect the shutdown to have an immediate, significant impact on our development work, but we will continue to monitor the situation.”

About 75% of NCBA Clusa’s international programmes are funded by the US government, said Alex Serrano, senior vice president of international programmes.

“Our offices and staff continue to operate and provide services to the large number of co-operatives, producer organisations and communities around the world,” he added. “However, we are looking at different scenarios should the shutdown continue.”

On Friday, InterAction – the largest alliance of US-based international NGOs, which includes NCBA Clusa – said development and humanitarian programmes “thrive with sustained, predictable support” and urged Congress and the Administration to enact a clean continuing resolution for the fiscal year.