Local federal employees back to work after 35-day hiatus

BLM employees are back to work even as talks between President Donald Trump and key Democratic lawmakers continue in Washington, D.C. (The Enterprise/File).

VALE – Monday morning the Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management was a busy place.

Shuttered since Dec. 22 because of the government shutdown, BLM employees scrambled to get back on track after a month on furlough.

They went back to work after President Trump agreed last Friday to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations continue over his demand for funding of a border wall.

The shutdown made its largest impact locally at the Vale BLM, where about 105 people were sent home, and the Farm Service Agency as the president and Democrats in Congress clashed over funding for a border wall.

The Farm Service Agency, which employees nine people, was back in business last Thursday, a decision made even before the president’s action, as a central hub for federal loans to local farmers.

The reopening came at an important time for farmers.

From November to April, many farmers seek loans to cover operating costs.

“We haven’t been able to issue commodity checks and that is really bad because (farmers) haven’t been paid for any supplies or services,” said John Mills, the farm loan manager for the agency.

Some local farmers said the shutdown was mostly an inconvenience.

“At this point that is all it has really been,” said local sugar beet farmer Bruce Corn.

Corn and other sugar beet growers, though, did see delayed payments from Amalgamated Sugar Company on their last crop because of the shutdown.

Amalgamated Sugar Company usually uses Department of Agriculture loans to pay its growers. The shutdown cut off that avenue of financing.

“While payments were late, growers were still paid,” said Jessica McAnally, communication specialist for Amalgamated Sugar.

Doug Maag, a Vale-area beet farmer and a member of the sugar company’s board of directors, said there was about a two-week delay on payments.  

“We have a financially strong background so we went and did our own financing,” said Maag.

Don Hodge, Malheur County commissioner, said he supports President Trump but he was uneasy about having so many federal employees out of work.

“I agree with the wall, we need to do something,” he said.

However, he said, “people shouldn’t have to miss their mortgage payments, and I hate to see those people suffering.”

Dan Capron, Ontario city councilor, said there would not be a shutdown if there were term limits on lawmakers.

“We’d have new ideas then,” said Capron.

Capron was concerned to see a battle over the wall when the nation’s deficit – now at about $779 billion – went ignored.

“And we are arguing over a $5 billion fence?” said Capron.