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How the Government shutdown affects floriculture

By mid-January, the partial government shutdown had become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and was showing no signs of ending soon.

A number of government agencies floral industry members depend on for services and business processes are affected in some way by the shutdown, including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, State, and Transportation, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and Small Business Administration.

As the national trade association for the floral industry, the Society of American Florists is the face of floriculture in Washington. Among the most significant effects of the shutdown as they relate to the industry are:

government2Even as the partial government shutdown continues at press time, floral industry members are preparing to educate lawmakers and key congressional staff about the floriculture industry’s legislative priorities during Congressional Action Days this March. More than 90 floral industry members from three countries, 25 states and the District of Columbia participated in Congressional Action Days last year.Customs and Border Patrol

At press time, 13 inspectors who were scheduled to arrive in Miami in mid-January to assist with flower inspections for Valentine’s Day had been delayed by the shutdown. The team was intended to supplement 75 Customs and Border Patrol agents on-site year-round in Miami — the latter group will continue to work through the shutdown, said Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida.

“AFIF has worked closely with the government over the past few years to ensure we have additional inspectors for higher volume holidays, including Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day,” Boldt explained. “When I met with the government in December, they had already secured funding for the additional people during the four weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, the shutdown means that, for now, the government no longer has the funding for those additional 13 inspectors; however, the 75 employees who are here have told us they are committed to working whatever hours necessary to keep the shutdown from affecting the floral industry and Valentine’s Day.”

Customs supervisors in Miami have been able to bring in a few additional inspectors from nearby ports, including Ft. Lauderdale. Federal regulations prohibit private industry from paying for additional inspectors.

Because U.S. Department of Agriculture employees in Miami are working, Boldt said there should be no holdups related to pest identification or fumigation.

“I think the main thing I’d like to communicate to the industry is that the inspections are happening and will continue to happen,” Boldt said. “The employees here are committed to doing their jobs and, through AFIF, the industry has representation in Miami every day with the airport and government agencies.”

Miami is the country’s major port of entry for cut flowers, processing 90 percent of the cut flowers that come into the United States.

Homeland Security

Eighty-seven percent of employees at the Department of Homeland Security are exempt from a lapse in government funding. Most of the department, including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration, are considered essential personnel, and so continue to work even under a shutdown. Salaries at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are funded by fees paid by visa applicants and immigrant petitioners.

However, the E-Verify system, administered by DHS, which screens new employees for their eligibility to work in the United States is offline due to the shutdown.

“Due to the lapse in federal funding… E-Verify and E-Verify services are unavailable” read a message on the E-Verify website at e-verify.gov.

The Internal Revenue Service

The IRS is expected to furlough about 52,000 employees. The IRS Lapsed Appropriations Contingency Plan noted that the issuance of refunds, audit and exam functions will be suspended, and IRS personnel responsible for answering taxpayer questions would be furloughed.

Small Business Administration

Processing of loans from the SBA will be delayed.

Other considerations

Despite a department or agency not having its funding bill enacted, not all of the functions of those organizations are stopped. Some government services are funded by user fees, mandatory appropriations, and multi-year discretionary funding rather than through annual appropriations bills. Those activities, as well as those that are related to law enforcement and the protection of life and property, continue during a shutdown.

For example, the USDA’s Lapse in Funding Plans notes that among the functions that would continue during the shutdown include:

• Inspections for import and export activities to prevent the introduction and dissemination of pests into and out of the country.

• Continuity and maintenance of some research measurements and research-related infrastructure such as germplasm, seed storage, and greenhouses.

Feeling frustrated by the impasse in Washington? Share your perspective directly with lawmakers and their staff and educate them about floriculture during SAF’s 39th Annual Congressional Action Days, March 11-12. Get details at safnow.org/cad.

 Drew Gruenburg is the chief operating officer of the Society of American Florists. safnow.org. As the national trade association representing the floral industry, SAF is the floriculture connection to Washington.