A two-week government shutdown is one thing. A four-week shutdown would be something entirely different.
As lawmakers continue to debate an end to the 11-day partial government shutdown, federal agencies are warning that the impacts will grow significantly if it continues beyond next week. That’s because many parts of government have been using dwindling reserve funds to keep employees on the payroll, and those funds are running out.
The Federal Courts
The federal courts have remained largely open and operating over the last 11 days through a mix of income from fees (from naturalization ceremonies, court fillings, and various miscellaneous payments) and some reserve appropriated funds that aren’t tied year-to-year. But that money is scheduled to run out next Thursday, “or maybe even next Friday, [if] we can stretch it,” says David Sellers, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. In that event, the Justice Department says that criminal litigation “will continue without interruption” but civil litigation will be “curtailed or postponed to the extent that this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property.” Already some cases have been put on hold because they involve other government agencies that are dealing with furloughed workers. These include a diabetic’s lawsuit against Kohl’s in Maine, the “Fast and Furious” case in D.C., Social Security cases in Illinois, and immigration cases in Florida all have one thing in common. “There’s a tremendous number of uncertainties, there’s a high level of anxiety because this would be new territory,” said Sellers. “You can’t really say we don’t have enough money so, this month we’re not going to hear anti-trust cases or patent cases.”
Veteran Affairs Dept. Secretary Eric Shinseki spoke before a House committee Wednesday about the increasing stress the shutdown has put on the nation’s military veterans. “A shutdown of government does not occur often, and we had not good plans in place,” Shinseki said. “That didn’t become obvious to us until late September.” If the shutdown continues into late October, Shinseki said that November compensation payments to more than 3.8 million veterans would halt. Shinseki also claimed that nearly 5,600 veterans a day would not receive a decision on their disability claims, education benefits and living stipends under GI Bill programs would stop for over 500,000 veterans and service members, and pension payments would end for almost 315,000 veterans and over 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission used “carryover” funds that had been previously appropriated through Wednesday. While resident inspectors will continue to work, and immediate safety concerns can be handled, a host of other duties to ensure the future safe use of radioactive materials are now suspended. “Beginning on Thursday, we will not conduct non-emergency reactor licensing, reactor license renewal amendments, emergency preparedness exercises, reviews of design certifications or rulemaking and regulatory guidance,” wrote Allison Macfarlane, the NRC chairman, on the commission’s website. NPR reports that all but 300 of the agency’s 3,900 employees were furloughed Thursday. A large percentage of the NRC budget is recovered through fees, but Congress has to appropriate its funding after the fees are deposited in the Treasury.
Washington, D.C., like the NRC, is hoping Congress can free up the money it raises. As the D.C. Council-approved emergency fund dries up, everything from charter schools to reportedly rape kits could be on the chopping block by the end of October. Unlike other cities, the budget of the District of Columbia is appropriated by Congress, and therefore affected by the shutdown. “In no other part of our country are Americans facing the loss of basic municipal or state services due to the federal government shutdown,” wrote D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to the President and congressional leaders Tuesday.
Gray is particularly concerned that the Contingency Cash Reserve Fund, containing roughly $140 million, needs to cover $98 million in the city’s employee payroll next Tuesday. The city missed its payment to Metro October 1 and medical providers October 5, and the city is scheduled to pay its 60 charter schools later this month.
For the last week and a half, the State Department has been able to limit furloughs by using “carryover” money from the previous fiscal year to pay salaries. “Departmental entities will continue to operate until their respective balances are insufficient to continue,” wrote Undersecretary of State Patrick F. Kennedy, in a letter to employees on Sept. 27. “While many appropriated funds expire after one year, the Department has some accounts that are 2-year funds or no-year funds.” But that funding is scheduled to run out in the coming weeks. A State Department official tells the Daily Beast that the current funds will only fund one more pay cycle, forcing more furloughs if the shutdown continues through the end of the month.