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Shutdown could furlough 40,000 Utahns

Impacts » Most key services could continue, if shutdown is short. A long shutdown could have severe consequences.

First Published Sep 30 2013 06:09 pm • Last Updated Oct 01 2013 08:31 pm

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.

At a glance

Agency plans

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

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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.

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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."

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