Vilsack: Budget cuts would close meat plants, cause layoffs

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The USDA would furlough up to one-third of its workers if automatic spending cuts take effect at the end of the month, the agency warned.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described the impact of the cuts, amounting to $2 billion, in a letter that warned "these furloughs and other actions would severely disrupt our ability to provide a broad range of public services."

USDA released a copy of the letter on Tuesday.

Vilsack reiterated the prospect of "a nationwide shutdown of meat and poultry plants during a furlough of (meat) inspection personnel" for "as much as 15 days of lost production, costing over $10 billion in production losses."

Meat packers and processors cannot sell beef, pork, lamb and poultry meat without the USDA inspection seal. Inspection of meat for export or import also would stop during a furlough, said USDA. The industry has appealed to USDA to find ways to avoid a disruptive shutdown.

Vilsack did not say how soon furloughs might occur. An aide said she had no additional information. Vilsack assured USDA employees in early February they would get at least 30 days' notice if they were being furloughed.

"Should sequestration occur, we would likely need to implement furloughs impacting about a third of our workforce, as well as other actions," Vilsack wrote in the letter to Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

USDA has roughly 100,000 employees, down by 4,000 in two years.

Up to 600,000 low-income women and infants could be cut from the so-called WIC program that provides supplemental food and nutrition education if the budget cuts last for the rest of this fiscal year, according to the letter. Current enrollment is nearly 9 million pregnant women, new mothers and their children.

Other cuts, Vilsack said, could include:

  • A work pause on the Census of Agriculture. "Data will become incomplete and will not be statistically sound for publication," said USDA. The census, conducted every five years, provides valuable data on farm operation and output that is used in USDA's forecasts. USDA faced repeated funding shortages for its crop and livestock reports in the past couple of years.
  • A slowdown in USDA aid to landowners wanting expert advice or matching funds to control runoff from fields and feedlots and a reduction in USDA-backed loans to farmers to buy land or cover operating costs until harvest.

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February, 20, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Yeah... Teachers, first responders, school lunches, air traffic controllers... Aircraft carriers mothballed, troops left without fuel & ammunition. We've heard the littany of what is going to have to be cut to deal with a 1% cut in the federal budget. Funny how the President's vacation/entertainment budget seems off the table. Likewise it is also funny that the 2013 budget with the cuts will still be larger than the 2012 budget... The President says they ought to cut the money from a bloated, wasteful, or unnecessary program... But he offers no example of one...

Wheeling, WV  |  February, 20, 2013 at 03:07 PM

Are you really telling me that 1/3 of the USDA employees make up only 5.3% of that budget, Mr. Vilsack? Really, then furlough the top paid employees until you get down to the required spending cut. I suspect they really are not as necessary as the lower paid employees who actually have critical, mandated tasks. This argument by our man Tom is almost as disgusting as the regularly repeated threat to reduce Social Security payments. Entitlements are those payments politicians chose to make to their 'special' friends. Social Security was confiscated from us. If the payments I, and my employer, made had been just put in a regular savings account, it would be worth 2 or 3 times what it is today. (Why not put all Federal employees on the program? That would provide a flush of cash, and probably help to keep the Congress and Administration from misusing the funds for 'entitlements'.

Central PA  |  February, 21, 2013 at 08:31 AM

More scare for the public of course. Nero fiddled while Rome burned we are told. I get more meaningful conversation a the local coffee shop on what can be done, but Big Brother apparently thinks we are all stupid. Vote them all out.

iowa  |  February, 21, 2013 at 09:05 AM

Just think of it, if we get rid of all those government inspectors and regulations what we could accomplish. Then let the people decide with their own money who they want to keep in buisness.

CNY  |  February, 21, 2013 at 11:17 AM

Yeah, just think. Abolish the EPA. Food and drug inspection too. Increase water contamination, with bigger dead zones, more fish kills and have a good river fire once in a while. Maybe some areas with undrinkable water. More crap back into the air. With the return of acid rain I wouldn't have to buy sulfur fertilizer again. Increased particulate matter would slow warming (Oops, I forgot, all real farmers know that's a hoax). More food born illnesses. Untraced to their source too. More chemical residues in/on foods, food containers. Why the list is endless. Let's get back to the "good old days". Yeah, just think.

Colorado  |  February, 21, 2013 at 01:42 PM

Fanatic treehugging fear mongering don't come cheap, does it skicker? The only "dead zones" threatening us are the ones between the ears of blathering spendthrift idiots in Wash DC (and parts of CNY apparently).

West Texas  |  February, 21, 2013 at 01:49 PM

Good thinking, Charlie - If Bush had successfully privatized Social Security in 2004, as he publicly wished he could, by 2009 the whole pot would have been zeroed out in the Bush recession & now worth zip for everyone. And all fed employees ARE in the Social Security program (& always have been). Your idea that Vilsack ought to furlough the officers & noncoms & run the place with privates is not brilliant.

West Texas  |  February, 21, 2013 at 02:10 PM

skicker's actually making a lot more sense than your blathering, Boondoggled- you're not commenting, just channelling Fox. Our country - economy, political heritage, cultural heritage - is as much a product of Washington, DC as it is of anything else. Blaming everything you don't like on the United States government is childish. I note that the Colo Republican delegation in the House - part of the USG - was all for sequestration as the means to cut into all this spendthriftiness you condemn so blithely. If it comes about, enjoy!

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