Connecting state and local government leaders
Congress voted to fund the government for 45 days. For now, the agreement puts off hard decisions about what to do regarding public assistance programs and the tens of thousands of federally funded state workers that would be impacted.
The federal government will stay open.
After what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called a day of “twists and turns,” the House and Senate on Saturday reached a deal on a short-term spending bill to keep the government running until Nov. 17.
House Democrats joined moderate Republicans to pass the stopgap measure over the opposition of conservatives, with the Senate overcoming a late night dispute regarding the lack of funding for Ukraine to prevent the government from closing.
But it remains to be seen if Congress will once again be on the precipice of a shutdown come mid-November. House Republicans are still seeking to significantly cut spending next year, something Senate Democrats are not likely to go along with.
“The appropriations bills they’re passing are so extreme,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters.
“I think it's shameful in many, many ways,” said Rep. Troy Nehls, a Republican and the former sheriff of Fort Bend County, Texas, after voting against the stopgap measure. “The idea that we continue funding the government for 45 days is just saying that everything that this administration is doing to try to destroy this country….”
That the divided Congress was willing to come together to avert a shutdown is a relief for state and local governments who were still sorting out what it would have meant for the tens of thousands of federally funded state workers and low-income people on public assistance programs.
The agreement spares cities, at least temporarily, from the prospect that federal workers residing in their jurisdictions would be furloughed without pay, which mayors worried would damage local economies.
For countries, which run one-third of the nation’s airports, the deal also delays fears that Transportation Security Administration employees working without pay would call out of work and cause air travel delays.
But perhaps most significantly for state and local agencies dealing with a higher than expected number of low-income women seeking help feeding themselves and their children, the continuing resolution allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to spend funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at the “rate for operations necessary to maintain participation.”
In other words, it will allow the agency “to spend available WIC funds more quickly,” tweeted Sharon Parrott, president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Parrott, though, noted that the program will still need more funding to meet the increased demand.
Public Assistance Programs
Being able to keep the government running will spare states, who have been scrambling to figure out how to fund public assistance programs being shut off. WIC funding was expected to end a few days after a shutdown.
Many states contacted by Route Fifty said they believed that they had enough money on hand to at least keep people on programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and WIC for at least a month.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, for example, announced Thursday that his state was willing to commit up to $1 billion of its $5 billion surplus to make sure low-income people would continue receiving TANF and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits should the shutdown extend into November.
A handful of states, including Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina, were unwilling to speculate on the impacts of a shutdown for its low-income residents, with officials saying they were still looking for more clarity from the federal government on what will be funded and for how long.
Had the government shut down, states were not expecting to receive their quarterly payment for TANF. Under federal law, states can save unspent TANF funds to prevent people from losing their benefits. Some have “accumulated a ton of funds from prior years. And are very well-positioned to be able to ensure that services continue,” said Aditi Shrivastava, deputy director of income security at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Several states had also indicated they would have been able to continue providing WIC assistance, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture Department said it would run out of money to send states in a few days after a shutdown.
Mike Parker, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Department, said before the agreement that he believed Texas could keep operating the WIC program “as usual” until at least Oct. 31.
The California Department of Public Health had also said it believed it had enough left over federal funding to keep WIC operating until at least mid-November.
None of the states contacted by Route Fifty, though, said they planned on cutting WIC benefits.
Funding for WIC is also significant for counties, which make up about half of the 1,900 local agencies nationwide that administer the program, according to a National Association of Counties, or NACo, analysis Friday on the impacts of a shutdown.
Federally Funded State Workers
The funds Maryland was willing to commit, according to an outline of the Moore administration’s response to a shutdown, could have also potentially been used to bridge state employee salaries that rely on federal funding. There are more than 139,000 federal workers in Maryland and nearly 50,000 active duty and reserve personnel in the military.
Tens of thousands of state workers were furloughed in past shutdowns, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees told Route Fifty. The workers are in areas like occupational safety and health programs, state Social Security Disability Determination offices, state public defense/military affairs, and state health and human services departments.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services noted that it had to furlough some workers during the 2013 shutdown, leading to some programs being “curtailed or paused,” the department said.
In California, though, H.D. Palmer, the deputy director of the Department of Finance, said the state would have continued paying employees like in its Employment Development Department with state funds and the federal money it already has received.
A number of other states did not respond when asked if they would furlough federally funded employees or if they had told those workers it was a possibility.
“Federal shutdowns, even partial ones, have an immediate impact on local budgets and the most vulnerable residents in our communities. The effects of a shutdown multiply quickly, including funding lapses, project delays and potential layoffs.” said Clarence Anthony, executive director of the National League of Cities, in a statement on Friday.