Impact of U.S. government shutdown on food agency services

January 7, 2019

A partial U.S. government shutdown began on December 22 after President Donald Trump refused to sign a stopgap funding bill to keep the government open through the holidays and into early 2019 over funding for a border wall along the southern border. In the meantime, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it can still maintain essential public health-related operations even with its funding lapsed. “During the lapse period, the agency will be continuing vital activities, to the extent permitted by law, that are crucial to ensuring public health and safety in the United States,” wrote the agency in a press release on December 29. According to a contingency plan put forward by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), these core functions include:

  • Screening food product imports to the United States
  • Maintaining core functions to handle foodborne illness outbreaks
  • High-risk food recalls
  • Civil and criminal investigations when public health is imminently at risk

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a statement on December 21 detailing which functions of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) will remain available during the shutdown. “There may be a lapse in funding for the federal government, but that will not relieve USDA of its responsibilities for safeguarding life and property through the critical services we provide,” said Perdue. “Our employees work hard every day to benefit our customers and the farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers who depend on our programs. During a shutdown, we will leverage our existing resources as best we can to continue to provide the top-notch service people expect.”

Some USDA activities will be shut down or significantly reduced and some USDA employees will be furloughed. However, certain USDA activities would continue because they are related to law enforcement, the protection of life and property, or are financed through available funding (such as through mandatory appropriations, multi-year discretionary funding, or user fees). USDA activities that continue in the short-term include:

  • Meat, poultry, and processed egg inspection services.
  • Grain and other commodity inspection, weighing, grading, and IT support services funded by user fees.
  • Inspections for import and export activities to prevent the introduction and dissemination of pests into and out of the United States, including inspections from Hawaii and Puerto Rico to the mainland.

In addition, eligible U.S. households will still receive monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for January. However, other domestic nutrition assistance programs such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, WIC, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations will only be operational based on available resources. Additional federal funds and commodities will not be provided during the shutdown. Child nutrition programs including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk will continue through February.

FDA press release

HHS contingency plan

USDA press release

USDA government shutdown plan (pdf)