White House Warning Federal Agencies to Prepare to Close as Shutdown Looms

The deadline to avoid a government shutdown is fast approaching and House Republicans are still trying to find a path forward. The White House has started warning federal agencies they should be prepared to close.

Here’s the latest on the potential government shutdown:

The government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. ET Sunday if Congress doesn’t act, a possibility that looks increasingly likely.

Congress was in session today but has shown little public progress on breaking the logjam. Conservatives in the House have pushed for deep spending cuts that can’t pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. And they’re threatening Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s job.

Meanwhile, the Senate released a plan to keep the government funded through Nov. 17, along with some aid for Ukraine and FEMA funding. But it’s unclear whether House Republicans will accept it.

President Joe Biden said today he doesn’t believe a shutdown is inevitable, calling on House Republicans to “do their job, fund the government.”

McCarthy suggested yesterday that a meeting with Biden would be “very important,” but the White House has rejected that after the speaker blew up a previous spending agreement, saying the crisis is up to Republicans to fix.

If the government does shut down, millions of federal workers and military personnel will lose their paychecks. Some essential workers, like TSA employees, will have to work without pay. But Social Security checks will continue to go out. Here’s everything you need to know about how it might affect you.

The federal government could shut down within days if Congress doesn’t come to an agreement to fund agencies by this week’s deadline.

The effects of a government shutdown would be felt around the country. Nearly 2 million civilian federal workers — 15% of whom are based in the Washington area — and another 2 million military workers would face delays in getting their paychecks.

Not getting paid will be devastating for many federal workers and their families, Everett Kelley, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said. The union represents more than 700,000 workers across the country.

“Some of them are going to go hungry without a paycheck. Some of them are going to miss a house note without a paycheck. Some of them are not going to be able to pay child care,” he said.

When the government shut down for 34 days in late 2018 and early 2019, federal workers lined up at food banks.

The prospect of a shutdown also concerns thousands of federal contractors and people whose work is connected to the federal government, such as those who work for restaurants, food trucks and in tourism.

Here are answers to the most-asked questions about the possible 2023 government shutdown.

When would the government shut down?

The deadline to fund the government is Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. Without a funding plan, a shutdown would take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023.

It’s unclear how long a government shutdown could last. It all depends on how quickly Congress can pass funding bills.

Why would the government shut down?

A shutdown happens when Congress fails to pass some type of funding legislation that is signed into law by the president.

Lawmakers are supposed to pass 12 different spending bills to fund agencies across the government, but the process is time-consuming. They often resort to passing a temporary extension, called a continuing resolution or CR, to allow the government to keep operating.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., can’t afford to lose more than four Republican votes on a spending bill. With Republican votes at a premium, the House Freedom Caucus, which boasted 49 members in January, has stalled budget negotiations by adopting a hard stance on domestic spending cuts, CNBC reported.

McCarthy could seek help from Democrats to secure votes to avoid a shutdown but that would put his speakership at risk.

Do federal employees get paid during a shutdown?

When no funding legislation is enacted, federal agencies have to stop all nonessential work and will not send paychecks as long as the shutdown lasts.

Although employees deemed essential such as air traffic controllers and law enforcement officers still have to report to work, other federal employees are furloughed. But their paychecks will not show up until after a funding deal is struck. Under a 2019 law, those same workers are slated to receive backpay once the funding impasse is resolved.

However, after the lengthy shutdown that began in 2018, it took a long time for those checks to come, according to Alicia Dolforde, who represents hundreds of TSA workers at Reagan National Airport.

“It was very stressful. It was high-stress. We were sent a letter home for creditors, to give to our creditors,” Dolforde said. It took over two months.”

Will the government shut down?

That’s the multi-billion-dollar question.

Members of Congress are still working to put together bills to fund the government. Shutdowns have been averted days before the deadline in the past.

While the federal and local D.C. governments are preparing for a shutdown, there are several likely scenarios at play, according to NBC’s Meet the Press:

  • Congress doesn’t pass any deal and the government shuts down after Sept. 30.
  • Congress passes one or more continuing resolutions (often called a “CR”) that provide temporary, stop-gap funding.
  • Congress passes 12 appropriations bills to fund the government for another year, averting a shutdown.
  • Congress passes some appropriations bills by the deadline, but not others, potentially leading to a partial government shutdown.

How likely is a government shutdown in 2023?

A federal shutdown after Sept. 30 seems all but certain unless Speaker McCarthy can persuade his rebellious hard-right flank of Republicans to allow Congress to approve a temporary funding measure to prevent closures as talks continue.

Even if the House is able to complete its work this week on some of those bills, which is highly uncertain, they would still need to be merged with similar legislation from the Senate, another lengthy process, the AP reported.

What happens during a government shutdown?

Many government functions would be severely curtailed. 

Social Security checks would still go out, but federal agencies would stop all actions deemed non-essential. 

Millions of federal employees, including members of the military, would not receive paychecks. Nearly 60% of federal workers are stationed in the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.

Federal workers are stationed in all 50 states and have direct interaction with taxpayers — from Transportation Security Administration agents who operate security at airports to Postal Service workers who deliver mail.

Some federal offices will also have to close or face shortened hours during a shutdown.

Employees deemed essential, such as air traffic controllers and law enforcement officers, still would have to report to work. 

At Reagan National Airport, a union president said she fears the shutdown poses a safety risk affecting Transportation Security Administration workers.

“I honestly believe it will be a public safety issue to work without a paycheck. High stress. It would affect the workers mentally,” said Alicia Dolforde, AFGE president of Local 1442. She represents nearly 700 TSA workers at the airport.

Government services: People applying for government services like clinical trials, firearm permits and passports could see delays.

The economy: Lawmakers also warn that a shutdown could rattle financial markets. Goldman Sachs has estimated that a shutdown would reduce economic growth by 0.2% every week it lasted, but growth would then bounce back after the government reopens.

Others say the disruption in government services has far-reaching impacts because it shakes confidence in the government to fulfill its basic duties. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned, “A well-functioning economy requires a functioning government.”

The president, Congress and the judiciary: The president and members of Congress will continue to work and get paid. However, any members of their staff who are not deemed essential will be furloughed.

The judiciary will be able to continue to operate for a limited time using funds derived from court filings and other fees, as well as other approved funding.

Federally funded agencies that are not under the District’s control do “provide critical criminal and civil justice services to the District,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said. They have been “adversely affected by federal government shutdowns, including canceled services and furloughed employees.”

Norton introduced a bill on Sept. 18 that would exempt these agencies from federal government shutdowns: Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for D.C., D.C. Courts, D.C. Public Defender Service, D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission and D.C. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

Metro: No major changes are planned for Metro service, Clarke said, but some changes could be made based on data from stations. For example, some Metro entrances could be closed in cases where not enough riders are coming through.

A lot of riders are federal workers. Ridership and fare payments could fall just as the transit agency is gaining riders back as it rebounds from COVID. 

“Hopefully, this will not happen and if it does it will be very short. But certainly not a good time for Metro to have a federal government shutdown,” Metro General Manager Randy Clarke said.

Other transit systems, including VRE, say they’re also weighing how they would respond to a shutdown.

Special counsels: Notably, funding for the three special counsels appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland would not be affected by a government shutdown because they are paid for through a permanent, indefinite appropriation, an area that’s been exempted from shutdowns in the past.

That means the two federal cases against Donald Trump, the former president, as well as the case against Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, would not be interrupted. Trump has demanded that Republicans defund the prosecutions against him as a condition of funding the government, declaring it their “last chance” to act.

Tourism: Businesses closely connected to the federal government, such as tourist services around national parks, could see disruptions and downturns. The travel sector could lose $140 million daily in a shutdown, according to the U.S. Travel Industry Association.

During the last government shutdown in late 2018 and early 2019, a long list of D.C. institutions closed, including: 

  • Smithsonian museums
  • The National Zoo
  • The National Gallery of Art
  • The National Archives 
  • Ford’s Theatre
  • The White House Visitor Center

D.C.’s tourism chief Elliott Furguson is concerned that the World Culture Festival on the National Mall could be affected.

“With over 200,000 people coming into the city of the dates that there is a potential shutdown… there is a concern there as to how they will pivot in the even that they’re not able to do things on the Mall,” he said.

Organizers say they are making plans but didn’t provide details.

What’s a furlough and who is affected by a government shutdown?

“A furlough is the placing of an employee in a temporary nonduty, nonpay status because of lack of work or funds, or other nondisciplinary reasons,” the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) says in its Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs.

When workers are put on leave because there isn’t money budgeted for their job, they’re on what’s called shutdown furlough. Those employees won’t get paychecks during the shutdown. Federal employees can expect to get backpay once the government reopens.

Employees who are “excepted” may continue to work — but their pay may be delayed. Excepted employees “are performing tasks that, by law, are allowed to continue during a lapse in appropriations,” OPM said. Examples include tasks related to protecting human life or property.

Employees who are “exempt from furlough” are those whose jobs aren’t funded by annual appropriations. “Employees performing those functions will generally continue to be governed by the normal pay, leave, and other civil service rules.”

Contractors who work with the federal government could also be affected: They might be barred from accessing closed government facilities or unable to get direction from agencies they’re working with, Washington Business Journal reported. Federal agencies wouldn’t be able to award to modify contracts. Late payments, stopped work and other challenges could lead to contractors getting furloughed, and layoffs aren’t out of the question.

Contractors are not guaranteed back pay like workers employed directly by the federal government are, the journal said.

What to know about unemployment if a government shutdown furloughs federal workers

Hundreds of thousands of people in the D.C. area could find themselves temporarily out of work if Congress fails to reach a budget deal. News4’s Mark Segraves shares tips from the D.C. Department of Employment Services on what to do right now.

How can federal workers collect unemployment?

Most federal workers and contractors will be eligible for unemployment.

The most important thing to know about unemployment is that you file in the jurisdiction where you work, not where you live. Even if you’ve worked from home since the pandemic hit, you file where your office is located. That means most people in the D.C. area will file in D.C., even if they live in Maryland or Virginia.

The director of D.C. Department of Employment Services, Unique Morris-Hughes, recommended visiting the department’s website now.

“The day you’re eligible to apply is the day the government shuts down, and when the government is officially unfunded, that’s when people can start submitting unemployment insurance applications. To prepare in advance of this, I recommend visiting the website, checking the eligibility criteria,” she said.

Benefits vary by jurisdiction. The maximum weekly benefits are $444 in D.C., $430 in Maryland and $378 in Virginia.

The D.C. Department of Employment Services is preparing to receive what’s likely to be a tidal wave of unemployment applications, the director said. They’re seeking to avoid problems seen during the height of the pandemic.

“We’ve learned a whole lot of lessons since the pandemic, and, let me tell you, the District of Columbia is prepared and ready for a potential government shutdown. We have staff, we have call center staff that’s ready to go,” she said.

How you can prepare for the impact of a government shutdown

When was the last government shutdown?

The last government shutdown ran from Dec. 21, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019. At 34 days, it was the longest government shutdown in United States history.

In the first 25 days of 2019, the D.C. economy lost about $1.6 billion in economic activity due to the shutdown, a George Mason University economist told WAMU. A large portion of that would eventually be paid out in checks to federal workers, but other losses, such as restaurants that missed out on selling food, couldn’t be recouped.

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