As Americans, we have some basic, reasonable expectations. Among them: Our food should be safe to eat, our businesses should be able to operate, our workers should be paid for their labor and our government should function effectively.
That shouldn’t be asking too much.
Yet as the federal government shutdown extends past the four-week mark, even those basic expectations aren’t being met – and that’s beginning to have real impacts on our state.
Agriculture is Florida’s second-largest industry, with 47,000 commercial farms creating $132 billion in economic impact. Our state’s farms support 2 million jobs, export more than $4 billion in agricultural products to 164 countries, raise more than 1 million head of cattle and are the nation’s leading producers of tomatoes, grapefruit, squash, sugarcane and, of course, oranges.
Yet when we should be supporting our farmers and the food they grow, this shutdown is harming them and creating unacceptable risks.
The shutdown’s closure of the USDA Farm Service Agency means that farmers can’t access loans, grants, insurance and other federal assistance — including disaster claims. As we speak, Florida’s farmers impacted by Hurricane Michael can’t file for or receive disaster relief. They’re waiting for help that no one can assure is coming.
Florida’s shellfish industry is experiencing delays with its $108 million in exports, as the federal office issuing permits is closed. Meanwhile, there is no federal oversight of shellfish facility inspections. Just as Florida’s shellfish industry is recovering from devastating hurricanes, the shutdown is impacting their ability to do business, sell products, and feed families.
The safety of food grown and produced in Florida is critical — yet right now, up to 1,074 food manufacturing facilities in Florida deemed high-risk may be missing scheduled FDA inspections. And when inspected food samples are found to be unsafe, our state government lacks the authority to initiate recalls, typically a federal responsibility. If there’s a food-safety emergency, key federal staff have been furloughed, hindering our department’s ability to respond to food-borne illness outbreaks.
The longer-term risks from a continued shutdown are just as serious.
Florida’s school lunch and breakfast programs, available to 2.9 million students, are funded through March — but without federal funding beyond then, our department might be forced to ask local school districts to foot the bill. Funds for our Emergency Food Assistance Program already have been exhausted.
Florida’s crops face a $120 billion annual threat from exotic pests and diseases — but federal funds to pay the hundreds of department employees who inspect the state’s citrus crops for devastating diseases are almost gone.
Tens of thousands of federal workers who call Florida home — including 4,500 Coast Guardsmen — are going without pay, wreaking havoc not only on their lives, but on our state’s and nation’s economy.
This federal government shutdown is costly. It’s unnecessary. It makes us less safe, less prosperous and less secure. Its consequences could touch every Floridian before it’s over. And it needs to end now.
President Trump and his backers in Congress need to do the right thing: End the shutdown, and let our government get back to work for the people – including funding the billions in joint ventures and programs administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Those concerned with defending “the wall” should be equally concerned with defending our state, our people, and our interests — because Floridians expect better than this.
Nicole “Nikki” Fried is Florida’s commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services