Some USDA-related workers are fearful they could be forced out of their positions because of USDA’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan. The plan was released nearly three weeks ago and requires all USDA employees to be fully vaccinated by November 22, 2021.
USDA county committee members who have been elected to their position, like Charlie Meintz, are also required to get vaccinated.
“I find it quite disheartening,” says Meintz, who serves as the chair of the Menominee, Dickinson, and Iron County FSA Committee in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “From my understanding is all employees that fail to become vaccinated are terminated and lose their retirement and benefits.”
Meintz was elected to the position in 2018. He’s concerned of the ripple effects if enough people are terminated from their local positions because of USDA’s plan.
“If the local offices lose enough people to the relinquishment of positions, the state office will take control over the local segment,” he says. “We would lose the local perception of the area and where the assistance is needed and how the effects of problems within local farms [impact] the conditions that exist within the area to implement programs.”
However, this sentiment is not expressed on a federal level. When posed with this worry during a press conference last week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says that FSA workers did an “extraordinary job” aiding producers during the pandemic. He expects them to continue to do so despite Meintz’s concerns.
“I’m confident that regardless of the challenges folks may confront at any point in time during this pandemic, we’re going to get the work done,” says Sec. Vilsack. “We understand and appreciate how important it is for farmers, ranchers and producers that we do our job. We also think it’s important that we continue to maintain compliance with CDC guidelines in terms of making sure that those who work in these offices are as safe as they could possibly be. I’m not overly concerned that we’re not going to get the work done because people step up. That’s what we do at USDA—we step up when we have to.”