Ag lawmakers on Capitol Hill say it’s time for USDA to end covid staffing restrictions at FSA offices.
“It’s time to go back to work.” That’s the comment from top House Ag Republican Glenn Thompson, confronting USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie on FSA staffing, at a General Farm Commodities panel hearing, Tuesday.
“USDA is still limiting FSA offices to just 25-percent of their personnel, and limiting or even preventing farmers from going in to the physical office. I hear from farmers, just not in my Congressional district, but frankly, all across the country, that this is bad, the negative impact on their ability to sign up for programs and get information, and they’ve had enough.”
Bonnie conceded the problem, adding FSA under his control, is taking steps to fix it.
“Yesterday, we moved 804 offices from 25-percent to 50-percent, as omicron—50-percent staffing. As omicron abates, we expect to be able to move very quickly, as the data changes. Understand the challenges here, we hear the same thing you do, and we’ll work to move as quickly as we can to reopen.”
Separately, USDA announced a final APHIS framework to create an early warning system for zoonotic diseases like covid and respond to them while still in animals to limit or prevent future pandemics.
The effort, including a new APHIS website on its “One Health” and other efforts, is funded with $300 million from the American Rescue Plan.