Stillwater News Press

October 18, 2013

After government shutdown, work overwhelms agencies across Oklahoma

By Nick Woodruff
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Imagine showing up to work one day and suddenly being behind 16 days. This is what happened for a United States Department of Agriculture office in Oklahoma.

Even though the United States House of Representatives voted to reopen the government Wednesday night, four of the five Oklahoma representatives voted against the measure. Tom Cole, who is the representative for Oklahoma’s Fourth Congressional District,   voted yes for the bill to reopen the government.

The government shutdown didn’t only affect national agencies, but also some local agencies across the state.

The Oklahoma Farm Service Agency serves Oklahoma state farmers and agricultural producers. Executive Director Francie Tolle said the government shutdown was a hiccup for the Farm Service Agency. She said there is one word to describe coming back to work after the government shutdown — overwhelming.

“They (Farm Service Agency employees) didn’t share any particular questions,” Tolle said. “I just know it’s overwhelming coming back and being behind for more than two weeks.”

She said not only has the shutdown been stressful and overwhelming for employees, but also farmers and producers in the state. She said the Oklahoma State Farm Service Agency’s clients are more than customers, they are friends.

Tolle said the Farm Service Agency provides loans to farmers and also helps fund some conservation and agricultural programs. She said farmers and producers weren’t able to make payments because their checks were through a loan with the agency.

The farmers and producers weren’t able to operate because the checks wouldn’t be accepted or processed. Even though farmers and producers have sold grain or cattle, the process was stalled because of a government shutdown.

“Sixteen days is a long time to be stressed and not know if we are going back to work,” Tolle said. “The farmers and ranchers we deal with are friends, and they are overwhelmed and any hiccup adds to that stress and they couldn’t get their money.”

As for catching up, it may take longer to catch up than the 16 days the agency was shut down. Tolle said throughout the next week, the agency will be working hard to make payments and process the checks that have been endorsed. She said they are trying to get the payment issues rectified as soon as possible.

The next three or four weeks will be spent trying to catch up to where they were before, Tolle said. She said employers, producers and farmers depend on each other.

Tolle said it’s tough but they will be working frantically to smooth out any hiccups.

“I hate to say it’s overwhelming, and I know the producers and farmers feel the exact same,” Tolle said. “They have deadlines and payments and they are trying to recover after a three-year drought.

“We have had a little rain, but you don’t recover overnight from a drought, and any little hiccup like this (government shutdown) doesn’t help. They are our friends and we are going to do our best for them.”