Resources, Farm Services Offices Open

NRCS Conservationist Andrew Cassidy catches up on some long-delayed work Thursday afternoon. (Pat Blair Photo)
NRCS Conservationist Andrew Cassidy catches up on some long-delayed work Thursday afternoon. (Pat Blair Photo)

Doors to the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Services and Farm Service Agency in Sheridan were opened Thursday for the first time in 17 days, with the heads of the two agencies saying Sheridan County residents appeared to be unaffected by the closures.

Natural Resources Conservationist Andrew Cassidy talked about the situation in Sheridan County.

Farm Service County Executive Director Linda Benzel said she only had a couple of messages on her phone when she returned to her office and neither were urgent. Both USDA offices as well as the Sheridan County Conservation District share space in the Cottonwood Building.

Conservation District Manager Carrie Rogaczewski said the district had no problems at all from the shutdown. She said the offices were closed because the county district shares space with a federal agency, but she still had access to the building – although not the equipment – and she was able to do some work from her home.

Cassidy said a bigger problem for farmers and ranchers may be the status of the Farm Bill. A revised bill was expected to pass in 2012, but Congress failed to come to an agreement. So the USDA has operated for the past year under an extension of the 2008 bill.

The problem has been the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance, or food stamp program, which is administered under the Farm Bill. Cassidy said 60 percent of Farm Bill funding is for that program. He said the House, last year, passed a bill that eliminated the food stamp program, while the Senate passed the bill in its entirety.

That sent the bill to a negotiating committee which had not reached a compromise when the shutdown was declared on the first of the month. The uncertainty about the bill creates a question about whether ranchers who lost cattle to last week's storm in eastern Wyoming, the Dakotas and Nebraska will receive any relief or compensation for their losses.

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