For many of Minnesota’s more than 32,000 federal employees, the political stalemate on Capitol Hill is deeply personal.
They could face furloughs or work without pay Monday if Congress fails to pass a spending bill. And if the shutdown goes on much longer, the lack of paychecks will put many workers who are struggling to pay for rent or child care in a bind, even if Congress eventually authorizes back pay, said Gregg James, national vice president for the local district of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“It’s a travesty, of course, because these shutdowns do nothing to help the country. It’s an additional cost for taxpayers,” James said.
For those who don’t work for the federal government, the shutdown’s toll will be less obvious. Cutbacks to office staff could delay paperwork, and some national parks’ visitors centers will close.
But for the most part, national parks will remain open. Postal workers will deliver mail. Social Security benefits will arrive. Super Bowl preparations will continue.
Even before the shutdown began late Friday, federal employees were working through the details of how services would be affected.
If an office or national park was closed during the 2013 shutdown, it did not guarantee it would be closed this time. U.S. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said at a Friday news conference that national parks will remain open, though some services, like trash pickup, will stop.
On Saturday, the voicemail for the Mississippi River Visitor Center in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota intoned, “Due to the government shutdown, our staff has been furloughed and none of our visitor centers are open.” Voyageurs National Park posted a warning on its Facebook page telling visitors to be cautious, as the National Park Service will not plow roads or maintain trails during the shutdown.
Impacts on federal departments and agencies vary widely. A Department of Health and Human Services contingency plan shows 50 percent of its 81,915-person staff are furloughed. The Veterans Health Administration, meanwhile, said more than 95 percent of its employees will still come to work.
Nearly 90 percent of Department of Homeland Security staff are deemed essential and would keep working, an official said. Several DHS agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are involved in Super Bowl security, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Michael Howard, spokesman for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, said he checked on the shutdown’s potential impact on Super Bowl preparations and did not find any.
Government activities that rely on annual appropriations are most likely to be affected. Some agencies have alternative sources of income and are able to continue work as usual.
The Postal Service, for example, is an independent entity, funded through the sales of its products and services, so its more than 11,900 employees in Minnesota are not affected, spokeswoman Darla Swanson said. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes immigration documents, collects fees that will help it continue managing paperwork during the shutdown.
When nonessential employees are sent home to wait out a shutdown, it can create a backlog of work, James said. Staff members sometimes rack up expensive overtime hours trying to get caught up when they return, he said, and if government fails to ship things on time, taxpayers foot the bill for fines.
DACA debate continues
It remained unclear Saturday how long it would take for Democrats and Republicans to reach a spending deal. Government offices closed for 16 days during the last government shutdown in 2013. Congress authorized back pay for people who worked or were furloughed during that time.
The key conflict in Senate negotiations is protections for “dreamers,” immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children. President Donald Trump announced last year he would rescind the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allowed them to legally get jobs and driver’s licenses and enroll in college. The program expires in March.
The House passed a stopgap spending bill Thursday to temporarily fund the government. It did not address DACA. Many Senate Democrats had said they would not support a bill unless it helped protect young immigrants.
“Immigration policy has nothing to do with the appropriations process,” Minnesota Republican Rep. Jason Lewis said in a video posted Saturday on Facebook. “So why would the Democrats hold government funding hostage to do that? For political expediency.”
Minnesota’s two senators, Democrats Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, voted against Friday’s short-term funding bill, which did not address DACA.
“Real leaders take responsibility. Republicans control the House. They control the Senate. They control the White House. Today, our government is shut down because of their inability to lead,” Smith posted on Twitter on Saturday, adding that there is a “clear solution” that protects DACA.
More than 7,100 people in Minnesota have applied to or been approved for DACA, said John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.
“We’re hopeful that eventually, if not today or in the next few days, in the next month or so we will get something done in a bipartisan way that’s permanent and really welcomes these kids to get their citizenship and stay in Minnesota,” Keller said.