WATCH: Senator Reverend Warnock Highlights Detrimental Impacts of Narrowly-Avoided Government Shutdown, Summer EBT Nutrition Assistance Refusal During Senate Agriculture Oversight Hearing

Senator Reverend Warnock warned of the harms America’s farmers and families would incur during a government shutdown during today’s Senate Agriculture committee hearing conducting oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

As of today, funding for USDA runs out on March 1; this would halt essential services to Georgia’s farmers including loan assistance and disaster relief

During a government shutdown, funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food assistance program would be at risk; WIC provides nutrition assistance, heath care referrals, nutrition education, and breastfeeding support to pregnant women, recent mothers, and their children under the age of five

According to USDA, over 225,000 Georgians participated in WIC as of 2023

Senator Reverend Warnock questioned USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Georgia’s refusal to participate in summer nutrition assistance program for children

Senator Reverend Warnock also urged Secretary Vilsack to provide clarity on a timeline for delivering relief to farmers who experienced historical discrimination by USDA 

Senator Reverend Warnock: “USDA is just days away from running out of funding even though the Senate already passed a bipartisan bill to fund the agency last year. That makes no sense. A lapse in funding puts millions of hardworking families at risk”

Senator Reverend Warnock to Secretary Vilsack: “Which consequences of a government shutdown at USDA keep you up at night?”

Watch Senator Reverend Warnock’s remarks at today’s Senate Agriculture committee hearing HERE.

Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), a member of the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, warned of the harmful impacts a government shutdown would have on farmers across the country and families relying on nutritional assistance during an oversight hearing with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack. Funding for USDA is slated to run out on March 1. In his line of questioning, Senator Warnock asked Secretary Vilsack to explain the impact of a government shutdown on USDA’s operations, as well as the impact of Georgia’s refusal to participate in the Summer EBT program, which helps young students access vital nutrition in the summer months outside of school.

“I was glad to get the news that it looks like we may be avoiding a government shutdown, but here we are again engaged in governing through brinksmanship, which is a terrible way to run anything, let alone the United States government. Included in the deal that was struck is [agriculture funding legislation], but we will see the text in the coming days and hopefully get these bills cleared next week,” said Senator Reverend Warnock. “A lapse in funding puts millions of hardworking families at risk—both those who run the small family farms that are the lifeblood of our rural economies, and those who rely on vital food assistance programs.

During the hearing, Senator Warnock reminded the committee that a lapse in funding would harm farmers, their families, and women and children relying on essential services and program—including Georgians relying on the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food assistance program. WIC provides nutrition assistance, health care referrals, nutrition education, and breastfeeding support to pregnant women, recent mothers, and their children under the age of five.According to USDA, 186,300 Georgians participated in WIC in 2020. If Congress does not fully fund WIC, it is estimated the program will face a $1 billion shortfall later this year. This funding shortfall would result in nearly 2 million women and children across the nation losing out on WIC benefits in 2024.

Additionally, during a government shutdown, USDA would close USDA Rural Development, Natural Resource Conservation Services, and Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices. FSA provides several essential services to Georgia’s farmers including loan assistance and disaster relief. If FSA offices close, farmers will not be able to apply for loans and current applications’ processing and payment will be delayed. 

Watch the Senator’s full remarks and questioning HERE.

See below a transcript of select exchanges between Senator Reverend Warnock and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack: 

Senator Reverend Warnock: “Secretary Vilsack, which consequences of a government shutdown at USDA keep you up at night as we work through this?

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack: “First of all, the farmer who can’t get the loan. The farmer who won’t be able to get the ARC/PLC payment. The farmer that won’t be able to get the disaster assistance program. The farmer who won’t be able to get the conservation contract signed. The SNAP recipient, potentially, that won’t get the SNAP resources to be able to go to the grocery store. The WIC mom that won’t get the benefits from the WIC program. The researcher who spent his or her life for the last several years doing some extraordinary research only to have the lab shut down and millions of dollars of research lost. The forest service that wants to open up the forests so people can enjoy them but can’t. I mean, the list goes on.”

SRW: “Thank you and I appreciate that exhaustive list because it underscores how much is at stake beneath the games that Washington plays.”


SRW: “You’re well aware child hunger is a serious issue in our country. Approximately 30 million students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals. However, over the summer months, they often don’t have adequate access to meals—hunger does not go on a vacation. How many students are reached by these summer lunch programs?”

SV: 21 million out of the 30 million or so that are eligible. There are 13 states that have yet to agree to participate in the program.”

SRW: “That’s right and sadly my home state of Georgia is one of those states. This summer meal gap is putting our most vulnerable children at greater risk of going hungry, struggling in school, and experiencing long term health challenges…”

SV: 1.1 million children in your state.”

SRW: “1.1million. So, state leaders in Georgia refused to participate in this program. They say they don’t need it—I don’t know who the ‘they’ is they are talking about; I can tell you as a pastor I can point to folks not far from my church who would benefit. About how much money is Georgia leaving on the table that could be used to feed our kids?”

SV: “$138 million. But then you have to figure out how it rolls around in the economy, so you’re talking about close to half a billion dollars of economic activity that is lost.”

SRW: “So $138 million, not to mention the economic impact on our state. I appreciate USDA’s efforts in standing up this new program, and I hope you will continue to encourage the states like Georgia that have not opted in this year to do so next year. We have to continue working until we close the summer meal gap and all our children have equitable access to food.”


SRW: “Sections 22006 and 22007—and I’ll take credit for that last number—of the Inflation Reduction Act, which I fought hard to include with Senator Booker and the Chair, provided $5.3 billion for economically distressed farmers and farmers who experienced historical discrimination by USDA. It’s been a joy to engage these farmers during the early years of my tenure here in the Senate. When I think about that program it is one of the reasons why I do this work: every now and then you get the chance to do something that is transformational. […] When I talk to farmers in Georgia who have applied for this assistance, they tell me they are trying to plan for the next season, and they need to know when they can expect this assistance. Secretary Vilsack, what is your timeline for getting this financial assistance into the pockets of farmers?”

SV: “By my last count there have been nearly 60,000 applications that have been received. So now the outside administrators have to go through the process of evaluating those applications. Our hope is we get resources out the door sometime in the summer.”

SRW: “Thank you. These farmers have had a long haul. This goes back over decades; the financial assistance is long overdue. I want to continue to strongly encourage you to swiftly roll out the rest of this funding so other distressed farmers can remain on their land and have the opportunity to grow another crop.”