Little impact in Mich. if fed shutdown is short

Michael Gerstein, Melissa Nann Burke, and Karen Bouffard

Lansing — Many of Michigan’s 52,000 federal workers won’t be working Monday, but the public likely won’t feel much initial impact as the federal government shuts down on its first normal work day.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration will be employing its contingency plans but says services won’t be seriously affected, Michigan Budget Director Al Pscholka said. The U.S. Senate has planned a Monday session to end debate and hold a vote on a House bill to reopen the government.

Michigan can continue running all of its government programs without federal dollars unless a shutdown lasts longer than a month, Pscholka said.

“As long as it’s not protracted and shut down for like three, four weeks or more, everything should be fine,” he said.

Office of Management and Budget chief Mick Mulvaney said the shutdown would hurt less than the October 2013 one under President Barack Obama.

Mulvaney said Friday the Obama administration “weaponized” the 2013 shutdown by not authorizing the transfer of money and other maneuvers to keep some services flowing with funds on hand, Mulvaney said at a Friday White House briefing. Nonessential workers will be furloughed, while essential employees will be kept on the job.

“Fannie (Mae) and Freddie (Mac) will be open. The post office will be open. The TSA will be open. But, again, all of these people will be working for nothing, which is simply not fair. We are going to manage the shutdown differently,” said Mulvaney, who was a Republican congressman during the last shutdown.

“We’re not going to try and hurt people, especially people who happen to work for this federal government. But we still need Congress to appropriate the funds.”

More than a third of Michigan’s $56.6 billion budget is financed with federal dollars. The biggest federal expenditure in Michigan is for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.

Money for Medicaid would dry up only if Congress never passes another spending agreement, Pscholka said.

“It’s nothing earth-shattering that we’re sitting here stressing about,” Pscholka added with a laugh. “We’ve got other things to worry about.”

Many services continue

Among the services that won’t be affected are welfare benefits, food stamps for Michigan’s nearly 1.8 million recipients; Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition funding for 250,000 children; school lunches; subsidized home heating subsidies; and Meals on Wheels for seniors, said Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the State Budget Office.

Programs receiving less priority that might close during a shutdown include workplace safety inspections, inspections of new nursing homes and monthly rental voucher subsidies for low-income people, Weiss said.

The last partial federal government shutdown in October 2013 lasted 16 days. The December 1995-January 1996 shutdown lasted 21 days.

Both resulted in the furlough without pay — in 2013 for about 40 percent of the federal workforce, or about 850,000 nonessential workers, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The furloughed workers received their pay when the government received funding again.

Michigan had about 52,200 federal civilian employees as of November, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state had nearly 2,100 active-duty military, including more than 1,100 in the Coast Guard as of September, according to the Department of Defense. Another 14,900 are part of the National Guard or Reserves.

Services will continue, at least in the immediate future, for nearly 700,000 Michigan residents served by federally funded health care clinics. There are about 45 such clinics statewide, providing care at more than 300 sites.

“The only potential concern is if there were a much longer shutdown in which federal workers were not available to process payments to the health centers for their grants,” said Jen Anderson, spokeswoman for the Michigan Primary Care Association.

Anderson noted the clinics are already in jeopardy because funding hasn’t been renewed for the federal Health Center Program.

State health officials say Michigan can keep the Children’s Health Insurance Program going through June. The program covers more than 100,000 lower-income children in Michigan.

Michigan uses CHIP funding to support several programs, including coverage for certain children on Medicaid and mothers who are undocumented immigrants.

“That terrible budgetary uncertainty is forcing many Michigan health centers to activate contingency plans,” Anderson said.

“That means potentially closing sites, cutting hours, reducing services, instituting hiring freezes, delaying planned expansions, and laying off staff, none of which is healthy for the communities they serve.”

VA health care

Veterans’ health care would continue even during a long-term shutdown, said Craig Larson, public affairs director with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Midwest District in Chicago.

The Veterans Health Administration received advance appropriations for the 2018 budget year as part of last year’s budget, so under a shutdown the health agency would continue full operations, Larson said.

Most VA employees have already been funded for the year, and others are legally excepted from the shutdown, Larson added.

Unlike the 2013 shutdown, the Trump administration said it will try to maintain limited access to the state’s five national parks, even if some park rangers don’t report for work.

The U.S. Interior Department plans to let the public visit most open-air monuments, wilderness-type restrooms and facilities that don’t depend on government staffing.

Gift shops, restaurants and other concessionaires inside parks may be permitted to continue operations by third parties as long as they remove snow and trash without government workers.

“The American public and especially our veterans who come to our nation’s capital should find war memorials and open air parks open to the public,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said.

“Additionally, many of our national parks, refuges and other public lands will still try to allow limited access wherever possible.”

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising will remain open to visitors and have rangers for law enforcement and safety reasons, said Susan Reece, a Pictured Rocks spokeswoman.

“We will just have limited staff,” she said.

The visitor’s center, which is open two days a week in the winter, would be closed. And there would be no staff to answer the phones or questions from visitors, Reece said.

A letter from the administrative offices for the nation’s federal courts said the courts have enough money to remain open through Feb. 9.

Many small business loan offices, Internal Revenue Service call centers and passport offices also would close.

But since the State Department’s passport services are funded partly by fees, the federal government may continue to issue passports for a short time. But an application would likely be delayed the longer a stalemate continues.