An amendment to the Senate's continuing resolution stopping food inspector furloughs may make its way through the Senate and on to the House before the end of the week.
U.S. Senators Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced the amendment last week, attempting to limit a funding gap for the Food Safety and Inspection Service and allow meat inspectors to continue to work despite warnings of sequester furloughs.
The CR aims to avoid a government shutdown when the current stopgap funding bill expires on March 28.
On Tuesday, however, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., objected to a move by Sen. Harry Reid to limit debate and move the CR to vote with the Food Safety amendment intact. The Senator from Kansas is reportedly holding out for his own amendment – an effort to fund air traffic controllers – to be included.
Despite the holdup, Reid said Monday that Senators would "stay as long as it takes" to complete work on the continuing resolution" and that the Senate hopes to reach an agreement on the CR before close of business Tuesday.
FSIS amendment shifts funds
The Pryor-Blunt-Coons amendment would transfer $55 million in existing agriculture funds to FSIS in order to ensure food inspectors are not furloughed.
The amendment adds no additional cost to the bill. Instead, it moves one-time funding for school equipment grants and deferred maintenance on buildings and facilities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pryor and Blunt said without funding, the furloughs would hurt small communities and cause higher food prices. Coons noted the potential for backlogs.
"The federal workers who inspect meat and poultry are critical not only to our nation's food security, but to the economic stability of many of our rural communities," Coons said. "Backlogs in food inspections could result in the shutdown of processing facilities and send devastating ripple effects through rural communities and straight to the shelves of every market and grocery in the country."
The Senators say it is estimated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's projected food inspector furloughs would lead to the closure of nearly 6,300 food inspection facilities across America. As a result, over 500,000 industry workers would lose nearly $400 million in wages.