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With only a few days left for Congress to strike a spending deal, a government shutdown is looming for thousands of federal workers in Massachusetts, plus countless Bay Staters who rely on federally funded services and programs.
Lawmakers have until Saturday to pass spending bills that would keep government agencies up and running once the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 — a tricky feat, given political infighting among House Republicans.
The most recent government shutdown was also the longest one, beginning in December 2018 and lasting more than a month. All told, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2018 partial shutdown cost the U.S. economy $11 billion.
Speaking on Fox News Saturday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss pointed to the tension among House Republicans and said the looming shutdown “will be the most preventable shutdown in history.”
“The only reason that this is happening is that [Republican House Speaker] Kevin McCarthy lacks the political courage to do what is right for the country,” he said.
Here are a few ways a government shutdown would affect Massachusetts.
The threat of a shutdown spells uncertainty for nearly 25,000 federal civilian employees in Massachusetts, who face the possibility of furloughs and an indefinite period of time without pay. Workers are entitled to back pay, per a 2019 federal law, but won’t receive their paychecks until the shutdown ends.
And some federal workers would still have to report for work without pay, including active-duty military personnel, certain law enforcement officers, air traffic controllers, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers, the White House noted in a statement.
The American Federation of Government Employees, a labor union representing 750,000 federal and D.C. government workers, estimates that up to 4 million military and civilian employees total will be affected in the event of a government shutdown. Furloughed workers will be eligible for unemployment benefits, but they’ll have to pay those benefits back once their retroactive pay comes through, the union explained.
“A government shutdown would be a disaster for the American people and the federal employees who keep our government running,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement. “Shutdowns hurt local communities across the country, deny Americans access to government services, and do significant damage to the overall economy.”
Even with air traffic controllers and TSA officers required to work through a shutdown, the White House has warned that travelers could face significant delays and longer airport wait times.
Mike Gayzagian, president of American Federation of Government Employees’ Local 2617, told GBH that TSA staffing could take a hit.
“People may say, you know, ‘This job isn’t worth it. I don’t want to be in an organization where this kind of thing can happen,’” said Gayzagian, whose union represents about 560 TSA officers in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. “And so we’ll start losing officers. And that’s going to place a greater burden on the officers who remain, and you can kind of get into a downward spiral if it goes on too long.”
During the 2018-2019 shutdown, New York’s La Guardia Airport saw air travel temporarily halted and several other hubs reported delays after just 10 air traffic controllers decided to stay home, CNN reported.
Citing new analysis released last week, the U.S. Travel Association estimated that a government shutdown could cost the American travel economy as much as $140 million per day, with six in 10 Americans canceling or avoiding flights in the event of a shutdown.
The good news: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and veteran benefits would largely continue as usual under a shutdown. Similarly, the U.S. Postal Service would also see no direct impacts.
“We will continue activities critical to our direct-service operations and those needed to ensure accurate and timely payment of benefits,” the Social Security Administration’s contingency plan reads. The agency would halt some services, though, including verifying benefits and replacing Medicare cards.
While certain veterans affairs operations would also be restricted — career counseling and cemetery grounds maintenance, for example — U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said in a press conference last week that the department is “working very diligently in preparation for a lapse in funding,” according to The Hill.
“In the case of a shutdown, there would be no impact on Veteran healthcare; burials would continue at VA national cemeteries; VA would continue to process and deliver benefits to Veterans, including compensation, pension, education, and housing benefits; and the Board will continue to process appeals,” McDonough said, according to The Hill.
The bad news: According to the White House, a shutdown would jeopardize the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which helps feed nearly 126,000 residents in Massachusetts.
If a shutdown were to happen, “women and children who count on WIC would soon start being turned away at grocery store counters, with a federal contingency fund drying up after just a few days and many states left with limited WIC funds to operate the program,” the White House said in a statement.
On Monday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that another food benefits program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), will continue at least through October.
“Now, if the shutdown were to extend longer than that, there would be some serious consequences to SNAP,” Vilsack said.
More than 1 million people in Massachusetts — 15% of the state’s population — received SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2022, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
A government shutdown could also see disruptions to and funding delays for services including housing support, educational programs like Head Start, and scientific research — a potential blow to Massachusetts’s robust life sciences sector. The Small Business Administration would also stop processing new loan applications.
“It’s going to impact the safety of people across Massachusetts, certainly the benefits that working families rely on to make ends meet,” U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan told NBC10 Boston.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, meanwhile, said the fallout from a potential shutdown will be a “disaster for local economies,” according to The Boston Globe.
“Republicans are literally willing to shut down the government and take food out of the mouths of hungry infants in order to make a political point,” he said, according to the Globe.
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