Local fed employees return to work

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 October 2013 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Staff with the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service pose for a picture this morning, their first day back to work since the federal government shutdown started on Oct.1. They work out of a building at 446 West Ave., next to Genesee Community College. Pictured include, from left: Trina Press, a program technician with the Farm Service Agency; Larry Meyer, FSA director; Katie Sommerfeldt, a program technician with the Soil and Water Conservation District, which stayed open during the shutdown; and Clark Moore, a district conservationist with NRCS.

ALBION – For nearly three weeks local federal employees watched the news closely, hoping an impasse would be resolved in Congress so they could return to their jobs.

“The biggest thing was the day-to-day uncertainty,” said Larry Meyer, director of the Farm Service Agency in Orleans County. “We had no idea how long this would be.”

The good news finally came last night, when the Senate and House both voted to end the federal government shutdown and raise the country’s debt ceiling so the U.S. didn’t default.

Meyer and a staff of three other FSA workers were back to work at their Albion office this morning. Meyer promptly removed a sign from the front door that said the office was closed. He ripped up the sign.

The FSA closed during a busy time when farmers are expecting crop payments and loans, about $2 million worth from the Albion office. Meyer said the staff will work hard to get that money out to the ag producers.

A deadline for farmers to report wheat plantings passed on Oct. 10. The FSA didn’t have any staff working to collect the data.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service also was expecting it would be working to sign up farmers and land owners for programs. Clark Moore, a district conservationist in Orleans and Niagara counties, expects deadlines will be extended. He said the timing of the shutdown in October was during a very busy time for his agency.

The Soil and Water Conservation District works out of the building with FSA and NRCS. Soil and Water stayed open during the shutdown because it’s not a federal agency. But many residents drove to the office and assumed the entire site was closed.

The shutdown also halted the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Shelby and the town of Alabama. Even the nature trails were off limits. The refuge is back open today.

Meyer has worked 30 years for the federal government and he had never been furloughed until Oct. 1. FSA staff were considered essential employees during the shutdown in the Clinton administration. But this go-round the FSA was deemed non-essential.

Meyer and some of the workers wanted to volunteer to keep programs moving along, but they were told they could face a $5,000 fine and imprisonment if they worked during the shut down.

The non-essential workers were furloughed, but they are expected to have their pay fully reinstated for lost days during the shutdown.