As the drama in Washington D.C. over a partial government shutdown drags on, it's beginning to feel like nothing can dislodge the two parties from their positions.
But now citizens are learning of an issue that could really hurt Oregonians—the federal shutdown of the agency that approves beer labels and operations.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), whose constituents in the first congressional district include brewers and many more beer drinkers, today wrote to John Manfreda, director of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, pressing the point that Oregonians want to be brewing and drinking—especially the seasonal beers that highlight the winter months.
Bonamici's letter is a clever bit of misdirection—it is Congress, not the federal agencies, that is responsible for the budget stalemate—but at least now she'll have a record of advocating for her beer-friendly constituents.
Here's the letter she sent today:
Dear Administrator Manfreda:
Today marks day fourteen of a lapse in government appropriations that has resulted in federal agencies shutting their doors and furloughing employees.
We in Congress need to move forward with a funding proposal to solve this problem immediately, as we are flooded with stories from constituents hurt by the shutdown. Among these are craft brewers, who rely on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
The TTB is charged with approving new labels and operations, especially for their seasonal varieties, and approving permits that allow new breweries to open. When the government reopens, we urge you to help prevent a harmful lag in the sale of new products and the development of new businesses by processing new applications as efficiently as possible. Oregon is home to a thriving beer brewing industry.
There are more than 135 breweries operating in Oregon, and they employ more than 6,400 Oregonians. In total, the industry accounts for a $2.83 billion piece of Oregon’s economy, and has made us a destination for tourists. Many of our small brewers produce creative seasonal varieties, and have to seek approval through TTB before they are able to sell these products in stores. Any delay in approving new labels and operations can cause a disruption in the supply chain of these craft brewers, and often their operations are small enough that it can curtail production of another seasonal variety, causing a domino effect that will cause further harm.
In Hillsboro, in the First Congressional District that I am proud to represent, the Three Mugs Brewing Company is all set to open. They’re currently paying rent on their property, insurance, utilities, and several other business expenses. But because they submitted their brewery application the day before the government shutdown, they are not allowed to start brewing beer. Meanwhile, across the river in Portland, Oregon, the Gigantic Brewing Company is concerned that its recently-submitted label will take even longer than normal to be considered because of the backlog resulting from the shutdown.
We realize that the impacts of the federal government shutdown are broad and harming many industries. The craft brewers in Oregon, and across the country, provide a specialty product with a short shelf life, and hence face amplified impact from even a short delay. To make matters worse, large breweries that offer seasonal varieties that have already been approved by TTB can continue to operate normally and have a competitive advantage over our small, craft brewers. For this reason, we urge you to proceed in approving applications with all possible haste upon a return to regular government operation. The shutdown is a massively discouraging situation that is beyond your control. We appreciate your hard work in mitigating its long term impacts, and thank you for your attention to this request.
Sincerely, SUZANNE BONAMICI Member of Congress