Minnesotans might not feel a government shutdown -- at firstby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
Washington — It looks like the federal government may be headed toward a shutdown.
President Obama met congressional leaders at the White House Tuesday, but they failed to reach a deal on a spending bill to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year in September.
So how would Minnesota be affected if the federal government shut down?
Each year, billions of dollars flow from the U.S. Treasury to Minnesota. The money goes to highways, medical research, crop subsidies and the thousands of other things the federal government does. So you might think that a government shutdown means that spigot of money gets shuts down right away, too.
Probably not, says Scott Pattison, director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.
"The states aren't immediately going to be impacted by a shutdown and a cutoff of funds," he said. "It's more of a long-term issue."
Pattison says many federal programs are structured as grants and give out money to the states in big chunks.
"What states do is they make a request to the federal government for the funds they're to receive, but they don't do that on a daily basis. That might take place every few weeks," he said.
Many state agencies contacted aren't sweating a potential shutdown yet. One of those calm agencies is the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
"It's certainly something we're going to keep our eye on, but at this point we don't believe it's going to have a real impact on Minnesota," said Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. "If it's a long-term thing, we would have to revisit that."
That's not to say there won't be pain for some. Ray Morris, who is in charge of the Federal Executive Board of Minnesota, coordinates federal activity in the state.
"A brief shutdown shouldn't have a lot of impact unless you were looking to go and get a passport from the new passport office that opened up about two years ago in Minneapolis. They'll be closed," he said.
Morris says there about 34,000 federal workers in Minnesota. But about half of them are postal workers, and the post office will stay open even if the government shuts down.
Guards at Minnesota's four federal prisons, medical workers at the state's two Veterans Administraiton facilities, air traffic controllers and TSA screeners would also keep working.
That means any furloughs would be limited to so-called nonessential activities like the state's four national parks, Department of Agriculture offices and the Social Security Administration.
Jim Ryan, a Social Security worker at the Brooklyn Center office, says checks will keep going out in the mail. But if anyone has a problem they may have a hard time getting it fixed.
"If the local offices are closed, there wouldn't really be any claims that are being processed or changes to things, adjustments and benefits," he said.
That means no changes of address or claims would be processed.
And just as importantly for Ryan and other affected workers, he wouldn't receive his paycheck. During the government shutdowns in the 1990s, federal workers got the back pay they were owed. But in the current environment, Ryan is worried that may not happen.
"At this point there seems to be some increasing concern that if offices do open after a shutdown, there's really no guarantee that employees would get back pay," said Ryan.
Congressional negotiators have until Friday at midnight to strike a deal. After that, the federal government will start shutting its doors.
- Morning Edition, 04/06/2011, 7:19 a.m.