What would a government shutdown mean for Amarillo?

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Millions of workers woke Thursday facing either a looming furlough or an indefinite stretch of work without pay, as funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight. What should people on the High Plains expect if Congress doesn’t meet the deadline?

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), 12 bills have not yet been adopted into law for Fiscal Year 2022, each one a bill from an Appropriations subcommittee that organizes money to keep many federal agencies running.

According to militarybenefits.info, nine federal agencies are typically closed during a shutdown:

  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Homeland Security Department
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of State
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Justice

In the last, and longest, federal government shutdown from 2018-2019, around 800,000 workers were impacted. Nearly half were furloughed, not allowed to work or be paid, while the rest worked without pay until the shutdown ended. Museums and national parks would close under a shutdown, for example, and the CDC’s shutdown plan noted that around 62% of its employees could be furloughed as well.

The general public would also feel the shutdown in day-to-day life. In a full government shutdown, given as examples from the CRFB, services from Social Security and SNAP to mundanities like air travel could be hit:

  • Social Security and Medicare: Checks are sent out, but benefit verification as well as card issuance would cease. While unlikely to happen again, during the 1995-1996 shutdown more than 10,000 Medicare applicants were temporarily turned away every day of the shutdown.
  • Environmental and Food Inspection: In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) halted site inspections for 1,200 different sites that included hazardous waste, drinking water, and chemical facilities, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) delayed almost 900 inspections. During the 2018-2019 shutdown, the FDA restored some food inspections a few weeks into the funding lapse for products that were considered high-risk.
  • National Parks: During the 2013 shutdown, the National Park Service turned away millions of visitors to more than 400 parks, national monuments, and other sites. The National Park Service estimated that the shutdown led to more than $500 million of lost visitor spending nationwide. Many parks remained open during the 2018-2019 shutdown, though no visitor services were provided and damage and trash build-up were reported at many sites nationwide. This could impact visitation to national monuments locally such as the Alibates Flint Quarries in Fritch.
  • Air Travel: During the 2018-2019 shutdown, air travel was strained as a result of air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents working without pay. Travelers faced longer lines as some TSA agents did not report to work and security checkpoints were closed, while the absence of 10 air traffic controllers temporarily stopped travel at LaGuardia Airport and caused delays at several major airports.  
  • Health and Human Services: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be prevented from admitting new patients or processing grant applications. In 2013, states were forced to front the money for formula grant programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, sometimes described as “cash welfare”).
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS): In the event of a shutdown, the IRS would not be able to provide its normal service of verifying income and Social Security numbers. In 2013, a backlog of 1.2 million such requests delayed mortgage and other loan approvals, and billions of dollars of tax refunds were also delayed. At least 26,000 furloughed IRS employees were recalled to work during the 2018-2019 shutdown in preparation for tax season, but 14,000 did not show up to work without pay. Millions of Americans, including many people on the High Plains, have still not received their IRS Tax Returns – this would delay that process even further.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Though funding for the SNAP program is mandatory, the ability to send out “food stamp” benefits could be affected by a shutdown, since continuing resolutions have generally only authorized the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to send out benefits for 30 days after a shutdown begins. During the 2018-2019 shutdown, the USDA paid February SNAP benefits early on January 20, just before the 30-day window ended, but it would have been unable to pay March benefits had the shutdown continued. In addition, during any shutdown, stores are not able to renew their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card licenses, so those whose licenses expire would not be able to accept SNAP benefits during a shutdown.

Regarding local services like the Amarillo VA Healthcare System, routine appointments and elective surgeries may need to be canceled and rescheduled. However, the hospitals are expected to keep fully operational.

Would this affect the COVID-19 response?

Yes.

Infectious Disease Official Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told the Washington Post that the pandemic was the “worst time” for a shutdown because the government should be working full blast on public health.

If being put away would risk lives or property, federal workers can stay on the job – however, many would have to work without being paid until the end of the shutdown. The Department of Health and Human Services’ shutdown plan pledged the CDC “will continue full support” for public health needs, but in a time where there is a national shortage of healthcare workers and intense strain upon those the country has, morale and efficiency risk taking critical damage.

What’s happening now?

As of the early morning of Sept. 30, the Associated Press reported that the Senate was poised to approve funding for the federal government into early December, with the House expected to approve that measure following the Senate vote. While it is not the passage of all 12 Appropriations bills, the “Continuing Resolution” would temporarily “continue” funding based on how it was set up for the 2021 fiscal year.

If the measure is passed, this would buy lawmakers time to work out funding the government as well as another pressing priority facing the country; the debt ceiling. Even with a shutdown avoided, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that if the debt limit isn’t raised by Oct. 18 the country would likely face a financial crisis and economic recession. Interest payments for Americans on mortgages, cars, and credit cards would go up, and the government’s interest payments on the national debt would swell.

Are the national debt ceiling and funding the government the same?

No, but the two do impact one another. The debt ceiling doesn’t authorize new spending but does allow the government to borrow money to pay its current bills and maintain its credit. A disagreement on the debt was cited by the AP as what slowed the bill to fund the government.

While the expected continuing resolution may avoid a shutdown until early December, how the federal government will navigate the full breadth of the challenges it faces through the end of 2021 remains to be seen.

This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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