Shutdown could furlough 40,000 Utahns
Impacts • Most key services could continue, if shutdown is short. A long shutdown could have severe consequences.
Published: October 1, 2013 10:49AM
Updated: October 1, 2013 08:31PM
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| AP file photo The Capitol dome is silhouetted as the sun rises in Washington.

As a government shutdown finally strikes, officials estimate up to 40,000 Utahns could be furloughed from their jobs. But most government services — from Medicare to unemployment benefits, food stamps and assistance to the poor — would easily continue for about a week using reserve funds.

Then some programs would begin to stop. Among the first to cease after about a week would be the Womens, Infants and Children (WIC) program that provides supplemental food and nutrition assistance to 66,000 Utah moms and children.

Top state leaders say the overall Utah economy won’t be hit too hard, as long as a shutdown is short. If it goes longer than a week, they say consequences could be serious — and any shutdown is severe to individual families who lose jobs even temporarily.

Here is how a shutdown may affect key areas:

Utah economy • Juliette Tennert, chief economist for the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, says the state’s best estimate now is that 40,000 Utahns could lose their jobs temporarily in a shutdown.

It would affect not only federal employees (Utah has 35,000 federal employees overall), but others such as civilian defense contractors. The state government also expects to furlough initially about 215 employees who oversee federal programs, including 192 in the Utah National Guard. The state figures 270 employees of county health departments could be furloughed.

Tennert said the highest concentrations of furloughs are expected in the defense industry, military installations such as Hill Air Force Base, the Internal Revenue Service and its large Ogden service center, and national parks — which would close their gates immediately.

“Impact on the Utah economy should be relatively minor as long as a shutdown is short,” Tennert said. “But if it is long, the impacts filter out to the economy in terms of the services and products that people [furloughed] would normally buy” and it would hurt. She said Utah’s economy is in better shape than most states to handle such bumps.

Normal for now • Kristen Cox, executive director of the state Office of Management and Budget, says that with reserve funds, most key federally funded services overseen by state agencies can continue during a short shutdown.

“For the first week,” she said, “most of our programs and services would be intact. So Medicaid would continue, unemployment insurance, food stamps, a lot of the programs that impact what we call vulnerable populations.”

But that would change after the first week, and more and more programs would cease as reserve funds or previous appropriations for them dry up.

Cox said the first to run into trouble likely would be WIC, which serves 66,000 moms and children with nutrition programs. Tom Hudachko, spokesman for the Utah Department of Health, said reserve funds can keep it going just a week.

Other benefit payments • The Utah Department of Workforce Services says reserve funds should keep food stamps, temporary cash benefits, unemployment, child care, refugee services and other federal programs it oversees operating easily for a week or more, said spokesman Nic Dunn.

He said the department is still figuring how long funding will last for each specific program.

The Utah Department of Human Services says the federal programs it helps to oversee should continue without problem with the next 90 days, including Meals on Wheels, community mental health centers, and substance-abuse prevention and treatment services. Most are operating on previously awarded funds.

Recreation • The National Park Service says it “will take all necessary steps to close and secure national park facilities and grounds except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the protection of human life of the protection of property.”

The governor’s office said national parks and related industry employ 129,000 Utahns.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued a statement that it will halt all activities “with the exception of law enforcement and emergency response functions.” It will allow some commercial outfitters and guides to continue operations as long as they do not need BLM field monitoring. All campgrounds, boat ramps and other recreational sites will be closed.

The U.S. Forest Service also said it plans to close operations except those needed for law enforcement and protection of resources.

Defense • Enlisted military personnel would continue to serve. About half the civilian employees of the Defense Department are expected to be furloughed — expected to bring some of the biggest cuts in Utah.

Internal Revenue Service • The agency issued a statement saying it could furlough about 90 percent of its employees, which could affect its large regional services center in Ogden.

The statement said it will halt all administrative functions not related to safety of life and protection of property. It said examples of services to be stopped include all non-automated collections, responding to taxpayer questions, audits and examination of returns.

Public education • Utah public schools won’t be affected, as long as the shutdown is relatively short. “We already have the federal funding we would receive for this school year,” said Mark Peterson, public relations director for the Utah State Office of Education.

However, he said if the shutdown drags on, “that’s another issue” and funding could be hurt. He adds that funding for school lunches will continue, and the program is exempt from the shutdown.

Higher education • Pell grants and direct student loans are expected to “have little to no impact,” based on notices from the U.S. Department of Education, said Pam Silberman, communications director for the Utah System of Higher Education. However, a statement from the government’s office said future student financial aid applications will not be processed.

Transportation • Air traffic control will continue, as will security screening at airports.

The Utah Department of Transportation expects minimal impact on highway projects, as long as the shutdown lasts only a few days or weeks. “If it lasts more than a month, we will have to push some of our projects off for another month or so,” said UDOT spokesman John Gleason.

Similarly, the Utah Transit Authority does not anticipate any delays with projects, including the Sugar House Streetcar line expected to open in December — if it receives final federal certification. UTA spokesman Remi Barron said only an extended federal shutdown would bring any noticeable impacts.

Law enforcement • Agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency are exempt from shutdown. A Justice Department statement said it would continue with criminal prosecutions, but would curtail civil litigation as much as possible without compromising human life or the protection of property.

Federal courts are expected to continue normally for about 10 business days into a shutdown before they would need to furlough non-essential employees, but cases would continue to be heard.

Mail • Deliveries would not be affected by the shutdown. The U.S. Postal Services is funded by stamps and other fees instead of taxes.

Agency plans

A list of contingency plans by major federal agencies for a government shutdown is available online at ow.ly/pmlnC.