The longer the federal shutdown lasts, the more Minnesotans could feel the pain.
When Washington shut down, it shut off millions of dollars that should have been flowing to Minnesota agencies, services, schools and paychecks.
State officials say there is no way for the state to make up that loss, so when the money starts to run out for things like the school lunch program, which relies heavily on federal funds, Minnesotans may have to do without.
“What we passionately hope is that the federal government will come together and figure out how to get its bills paid,” said Tina Smith, Gov. Mark Dayton’s chief of staff. “We are not in a position where we can just fill gaps that are created by their political breakdowns.”
The governor has assembled an emergency task force to identify which state agencies and programs are in danger of running out of money first and prepare Minnesotans for the potential loss of those services.
Weighing the connections
During a conference call with reporters, state officials pointed out just how closely federal funds are twined in the state economy.
An estimated 19,000 Minnesotans are federal employees. More than 3,000 state employees are paid primarily with federal funds. The longer the shutdown lasts, the longer those workers will go without paychecks.
More than a fourth of the total state budget comes from Washington. The state Department of Education relies on federal funds for 60 percent of its budget. That includes funds that reimburse schools for the free and reduced-price lunches and breakfasts they offer low-income children.
“Most of these students are in poverty. For some of them, a nutritious meal at school may be the best meal they get in the day,” Education Department spokesman Josh Collins said.
The school lunch program is funded almost entirely with federal money, and the department is still trying to calculate how long those funds will last.
“The good news is that right now, there aren’t any immediate impacts as a result of the shutdown,” Collins said, noting that schoolchildren are still getting fed. “We’re hoping that this [shutdown] is not going to last long enough for that to even be an issue.”
Another nutrition program may have gotten a last-minute reprieve. State health officials said Wednesday that the Women, Infants and Children program, known as WIC, will continue to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for at least a few more weeks. The program, which provides $2 million of food purchases weekly for Minnesota families, had been due to run out of money within days.
Nearly half the babies born in Minnesota are involved in the WIC program, according to state officials.
State worker furloughs?
Federal funding in Minnesota pays for everything from meat inspections to salaries for the National Guard. More than 1,000 Guard employees have been furloughed already.
While federal workers faced immediate furloughs, state employee contracts require at least 21 days’ notice. Some state workers, including almost 300 at the National Guard, have gotten that notice. Others, including hundreds in the Education Department, have not.
“We are hopeful that there will be a swift resolution” before the department has to resort to furloughs, Collins said.
It’s too early to say what effect the shutdown will have on Minnesota or where the money will run out first.
“It will be an evolving situation,” Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said. “The problems we know about today may not be the ones we have to respond to tomorrow. There are likely to be new ones each and every day. Part of the problem of the shutdown is the unpredictability.”
For now, every day of the shutdown is another day with thousands of Minnesotans out of work and countless state programs slowly running short of funds.
“Bad things happen when people go to school … hungry,” Smith said. “Bad things happen when don’t get the payments they have been counting on in order to make sure they can pay their rent. Bad things happen.”