Thousands of federal employees, active duty military and civilian defense personnel in Connecticut could stop getting paid if Congress does not fund the federal government before Oct. 1.
A shutdown would have a ripple effect on the state’s economy and workforce, but the implications shift depending on its duration. While a number of vital services would continue, such as Social Security and Medicare, other programs could start to see disruptions, especially if a shutdown lasts for weeks.
The most immediate consequences for Connecticut and the U.S. would be furloughs of federal employees who work for various government agencies. Some workers, however, are considered “excepted,” like the military and most air traffic controllers. But whether or not they work during a shutdown, none of them would get paychecks and would receive back pay only after government funding resumes.
Over the past few weeks, Congress has struggled to agree on a way to avoid the government from shutting down by Sunday, which has stemmed from Republicans who narrowly control the House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has been focusing on passing party-line spending legislation despite fierce opposition from some within his own party who have further slowed down the process.
Those House bills, however, would not ultimately prevent a shutdown, since they would not get enough support in a Democratic-controlled Senate or would face a veto from President Joe Biden.
In an effort to break the impasse, the Senate introduced a short-term bill, known as a continuing resolution, to fund the government at current levels. The legislation, which also includes additional funds for Ukraine and disaster relief, has support from both Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate.
The nearly $6 billion proposed in disaster assistance would come as the Federal Emergency Management Agency delays similar aid for states in order to preserve funding in case of emergencies and devastating natural disasters during a shutdown, according to The Washington Post. Connecticut was slated to receive more than $21 million in federal disaster aid.
But with House Republicans opposed to the Senate’s continuing resolution without including border security provisions and no clear support for any compromise legislation, Congress is headed toward a shutdown by the end of the weekend.
“We know how this ends,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said in an interview about Congress eventually getting behind a short-term funding bill. “That’s the only path.”
“The question is how long does that take. How much pain do the American people need to feel so that MAGA radicals climb down off their pedestal?” Himes continued, referring to former President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
What does this mean for federal workers in CT?
The exact implications for Connecticut, its economy and workforce would depend on how long the government would remain unfunded. A shutdown under a week may have a more muted effect on the state. But one prolonging for weeks or longer would result in missed paychecks and a steeper reduction in services.
The partial government shutdown from late December 2018 to early January 2019 affected about 1,500 federal employees in Connecticut. But if it happens again over the weekend, the government would be in a full shutdown, since no new funding was approved by Congress for any of the agencies.
Connecticut has more than 8,400 federal workers who mostly work for Cabinet-level agencies as well as at large independent agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Small Business Administration, according to data from March compiled by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The number grows when including government contractors.
Nearly half of Connecticut employees who serve in Cabinet agencies work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And more than a third work for defense-related agencies like the Pentagon, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard.
In addition to civilian personnel working with the Pentagon, Connecticut has more than 6,000 members on active duty, according to data compiled by the Defense Manpower Data Center. The data does not include those who serve in the Army. Those on active duty would work without pay until the end of the shutdown.
While many federal workers would face furloughs, some would continue their jobs like the military, border security and air traffic controllers and U.S. Transportation Security Administration agents. Regardless of their employment status, none of those workers would get paid and would only receive back pay once government funding resumes.
With the process largely at a standstill in the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, is pushing for House Republicans to get behind the Senate's bipartisan proposal for short-term funding.
DeLauro is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and plays a key role in crafting and negotiating spending legislation to fund the government. She said conversations are ongoing in the House to find a solution.
Whenever Congress passes a short-term funding bill, DeLauro's committee will need to keep negotiating the passage of 12 appropriations bills that will keep the government running at new spending levels through fiscal year 2024.
"This is about the economy. You’re really playing fast and loose with the economic security of the American people," DeLauro said in an interview.
"When you have food inspectors who can’t get into the plants to do their job, that’s part of it," she continued, arguing that a slowdown in production could increase the price of food. "It is totally irresponsible."
A potential shutdown is also likely to affect the defense workforce in Connecticut, especially for major defense contractors, the state's submarine base and the Coast Guard Academy based in New London.
Rep. Joe Courtney, whose 2nd District includes many of these defense entities in eastern Connecticut, noted there are 2,000 civilian employees who work at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton. During a past shutdown, Courtney said, the base did not have crane operators and maintenance staff working.
"In 2019, when the Coast Guard was shut down along with the Department of Homeland Security in New London, we had pop-up food banks to help Coast Guard families put food on the table for themselves and their family members," Courtney said from the House floor this week. "This potential shutdown is totally unnecessary, unfair, and will wreak havoc across the country."
If the prospects of a shutdown increase by the end of the week, it is possible lawmakers could pass a provision to ensure the paychecks of those serving in the military. Congress has passed measures like that in previous years, but lawmakers only have a few more days to do so before funding lapses.
Legislation would need to specifically include members of the Coast Guard, since it is overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The other military branches fall under the Pentagon.
"It’s both the right thing to do. The military should get paid, but so should our federal judges. We have TSA agents and air traffic controllers," Himes said. "It’s painful enough to take the federal workforce … and to divide them into essential and inessential. It’s already horrendous enough to make these designations."
Which programs and services are most at risk?
Because of mandatory funding, Social Security and Medicare would still be up and running. The Department of Veterans Affairs would also be able to process veterans benefits during a shutdown.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program, would also continue, though it is possible it could see disruptions in a prolonged shutdown.
But some other key programs could take a more immediate hit.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture could stop processing farm loans. Farmers in Connecticut, many who operate small farms and do not have as much access to capital, depend on federally backed loans since it is tougher for them to get pre-approved for a conventional loan to be able to compete with big developers.
While SNAP would still function, families who use the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, would likely lose benefits. The program provides food assistance to low-income families, with about 47,000 total beneficiaries in Connecticut, according to 2023 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Other assistance for low-income families could also be interrupted. State governments could be on the hook for paying for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, which provides monthly cash assistance to low-income families. The federal government provides block grants to states to fund the program.
And Head Start, a federally funded early learning and education program for infants up until age 5, could also see major reductions over time. A group supporting Head Start said a shutdown would have a swift effect on some of its programming and accelerate closures if the government remains closed for a while.
"If a shutdown happens on Oct. 1, there are 10 programs serving more than 10,000 children and families across the nation who will be immediately impacted," Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association, said in a statement.
"And if the shutdown stretches from days to weeks or even months, the likelihood of closed classrooms increases drastically," she added. "All the while Congress has the ability to pass a simple, straightforward, bipartisan continuing resolution to enable further debate without harm to children and families."
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.