Reported by Dan Zukowski for SmartCitiesDive.
As Congress stumbles toward a likely government shutdown at midnight on Oct. 1, state and local officials, including those responsible for law enforcement and transportation, are assessing how a shutdown would affect their operations. Depending on the length of any shutdown and the specific federal personnel and agencies it would affect, some impacts could be minimal but others may have serious consequences.
If Congress does not enact fiscal year 2024 appropriations or a continuing resolution to fund government activities at current levels before the midnight deadline, the federal government activities that depend on annual appropriations will come to a halt once their funding runs out. Only 10 times since 1977 has the federal government lacked legal authority to spend money; it went into shutdown mode nine of those times. The most recent and longest shutdown began Dec. 21, 2018, during the Trump administration and lasted 34 days.
Federal agencies are developing contingency plans to determine which workers they will furlough without pay. Those workers need to prepare for an indefinite layoff. “What are they working on right now?” asked Governors Highway Safety Association CEO Jonathan Adkins in an interview. “They’re trying to figure out their shutdown procedures.”
Federal employees considered essential — including air traffic controllers, most federal law enforcement, customs, immigration and border patrol officers, and Transportation Security Administration screeners — will be required to continue working without pay. According to the White House, more than 13,000 air traffic controllers and 50,000 transportation security officers would be working unpaid. “In previous shutdowns, this led to significant delays and longer wait times for travelers at airports across the country,” a Sept. 27 White House statement says.
“A government shutdown would reduce federal safety oversight, strain airport security, delay much-needed infrastructure and planning projects, and furlough thousands of hard-working public servants,” said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, in a Sept. 27 letter to Congress the TTD forwarded to Smart Cities Dive.
Regan also noted in the letter that recent shutdowns have not only affected federal employees, but also many contract employees who will not receive back pay after the shutdown ends. These include workers who clean, provide food service and perform other duties at federal facilities across the country. “Women and people of color comprise a larger proportion of the low-wage service workforce and are more likely to experience layoffs and have the least financial resources to cope with a loss of income. The shutdown exacerbates injustice as it primarily affects vulnerable populations,” he wrote.
A shutdown could also affect federal food assistance programs that more than 40 million people already rely on. Unpaid federal workers could add to the demand on food pantries.
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