The FSA staff shortage issue isn’t going away, and came up again during a recent House farm bill hearing. It’s not a new problem, but one that hasn’t gone away since the pandemic kept many FSA staffers home.
Minnesota Congressman and farmer Brad Finstad responded to complaints by some producers at a General Farm Commodities hearing on the farm bill. Finstad; “It hurts my heart a little bit to hear the shortage of staff on the FSA side. USDA has 100,000 employees. I think we have a prioritizing problem, not maybe a staff shortage.”
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is asking for 4,700 new employees in his FY ’24 budget, but strongly defended the FSA at a hearing last month when confronted with similar staffing criticisms.
Vilsack said; “Let’s be clear about this, there were 6,500 fewer people working for the department when I came back. So, we are in the process of trying to rebuild the workforce, number one. Number two, we track the work that’s being done, loans are being, there hasn’t been a drop-off, in terms of the service to folks. In fact, I think our people at the FSA offices have done a remarkable job getting all of the disaster relief assistance out, getting the loans out, getting the CRP efforts out—they’ve really stepped up.”
But Florida Congressman Scott Franklin told Secretary Vilsack, FSA service is not what it should be, post-pandemic. Franklin insisted phones are going unanswered because the people his farmers used to call aren’t there answering them, anymore.