State Watch

States scramble to fill void left by federal shutdown


States worried about the impact the partial government shutdown is having on tens of thousands of workers and contractors in their backyards are scrambling to make up for services and fill in gaps left by the impasse in Washington.

From coast to coast, in red and blue states, governors and state legislatures are assuring around 380,000 furloughed federal employees they will be covered by unemployment benefits during the shutdown. The 420,000 workers deemed “essential” are not eligible for jobless benefits.

{mosads}Affected government workers missed their paychecks last week because of the funding standoff, and there’s no end in sight to the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

“The dysfunction at the federal level that has led to the shutdown has some real, significant impact for people at the state level,” said Scott Pattison, who heads the National Governors Association. “The states administer the unemployment insurance program. The states administer food stamps. You could just go on and on.”

Some states are working with public and private banks to make sure mortgages are paid on time so no federal workers lose their homes. Others are moving back deadlines to ensure students whose scholarships are paid by federal departments can continue attending state colleges and universities.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who was sworn in just last week, has promised that the state will pay unemployment benefits to furloughed workers. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) have given furloughed workers assurances that they too will receive benefits.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), both of whom just took office, have asked state banking officials to help federal workers who may not be able to make their mortgage payments during the shutdown, which began on Dec. 22 and is now on Day 27.

Lamont has proposed a public-private partnership with Webster Bank to provide interest-free loans guaranteed by the state to those federal workers. Stitt directed his state’s Banking Department to instruct state banks to restructure loans or delay payment deadlines for those waiting to be paid.

But state budgets are tight, even in strong economic times. Some state officials are wary that the federal government could remain closed long after their reserve funds dry up.

{mosads}“There’s nothing significant looming in the next week,” Kristen Cox, director of Utah’s Office of Management and Budget, told reporters on Monday. “My biggest concern now is looking out six weeks to two months.”

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz (D) said the state will help fund federal programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, and veterans services. Still, state officials said they may have to consider layoffs for some of the 3,000 state workers whose salaries come in part from the federal government.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) said he would explore the possibility of a multistate lawsuit to recover any funds states pay to fill the gaps left by the federal government.

Ahead of a Friday deadline for students to make tuition payments for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and the University of Nevada-Reno, new Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) asked the Nevada System of Higher Education to either waive late fees or financially assist students who depend on federal money.

The breadth of the programs for which states are plugging holes underscores just how much states rely on the federal government for programs that assist the poor, students, homeowners, or even blue-collar workers who cannot afford to miss out on multiple paychecks.

About one in every three dollars a state government spends comes from the federal government. And states that depend most heavily on federal dollars to cover programs aimed at poor and working-class families are red states that voted for President Trump in 2016.

Among the 10 states that get the highest proportion of their budgets from the federal government, according to a study by the Tax Foundation, eight — Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Montana, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota and Georgia — gave Trump their electoral votes. Ninth-place Maine gave Trump one of its four electoral votes. Only 10th-place Oregon chose former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Trump.

Several Western states are using state employees to keep national parks open.

In Utah, state officials are cleaning up Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has pledged to use state funds to keep the Grand Canyon open to tourists.

“If you have plans to visit the Grand Canyon over the weekend, keep ‘em,” Ducey said in a statement.

Some states have even taken it upon themselves to plow roads and clean toilets that fall under federal jurisdiction.

But it’s not clear how long states will be able to fill the gap, especially if the shutdown continues long enough that a new month of SNAP benefits or payments to cover other programs aimed at low-income families come due.

Some states have already begun to consider tapping their reserve funds, money set aside for an economic crisis, not a political crisis.

“If this goes on another few weeks, it will be very significant for some state budgets,” Pattison said. “There’s not extra money. So if they move funds into something the federal government isn’t covering, then something else is cut at the state level or they’re actually dipping into rainy day funds.”

Tags Donald Trump Government shutdown Hillary Clinton Keith Ellison Michelle Lujan Grisham Tim Walz

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video