Shutdown stress begins for state workers, othersby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Some 22,000 state workers are at home today. So are families who would have been at the Minnesota Zoo or camping in a state park.
The state government shutdown that began early this morning also was having an impact on the private sector. Some day care facilities that rely heavily on clients who receive state aid have closed, and road construction contractors stopped their projects.
Many nonprofit agencies remained in limbo, and some sought clarification on whether they will keep receiving state money during a shutdown.
A judge's ruling earlier this week allowed only the most essential state services to continue, but not every fund or program was listed. Special Master Kathleen Blatz, a retired state Supreme Court chief justice appointed to make individual determinations of critical state-funded cases, heard from several nonprofit groups and their clients on Friday morning.
Blatz heard from groups serving battered women and the homeless. She didn't say when she'll rule on the groups' requests. Women's shelters in Thief River Falls, Burnsville and Fergus Falls closed overnight.
Jeanie Jacobs, executive director of Someplace Safe in Fergus Falls, had to lay off 35 employees. Women at the ten-bed shelter were sent to other shelters. The Shelter serves nine counties.
Julie Tate, who receives mental health services from the Twin Cities nonprofit Vail Place, wasn't sure if she would continue receiving those services. Tate told Blatz she's worried the voices in her head "will become out of control," causing her to harm herself.
Tate said she wasn't trying to scare anyone, but wanted to emphasize that the help she's getting is "so necessary to my life."
Blatz is also expected to hear from groups whose funding was specifically deemed not critical, including the Minnesota Zoo and Minnesota Harness Racing.
Attorneys for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's administration and Attorney General Lori Swanson appeared before the judge. There was some disagreement over whether Blatz's role was to decide if some state services were overlooked in Gearin's ruling, or if she should simply be clarifying which services fit the critical-core definition.
Swanson said Blatz's job is to work out individual situations that Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin couldn't cover in her order.
"It's to consider and adjudicate the individual requests of funding," Swanson said. "It's hard in one court order to deal with the magnitude of things that state government does."
The impacts so far were both direct and indirect.
Stephanie Burns, who receives child care assistance, said she'll now have to come up with most of the $225 the state had been paying to send her two children to day care. That will have an impact on her family's bottom line, she said.
"We'll probably have to start going to food shelves again and using the Angel Food Ministries and Ruby's Pantry is another one that we'll have to start using again because we won't be able to pay for food," Burns said.
Burns said her family should be able to make it through the shutdown. But she said she's mad that legislators and the governor couldn't reach a budget agreement.
At the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, an empty parking lot and a "closed for shutdown" sign greeted visitors who hadn't received word that the shutdown would force the zoo to close.
"We are very upset," said Angie Maidment of Lakeview, who had shown up with her three children. "We're members here and we come several times a year. We love it. This was going to be our last time. We're moving to the Philippines in three weeks so this was going to be out last hurrah at the zoo and we realized it's closed."
Zoo officials planned to go before the Special Master to argue that the zoo can operate for a few months without any state money and doesn't need to be closed. Officials say the loss of revenue poses a threat of long-term harm.
The ripples of a state shutdown continued to spread today.
While many state road construction projects are shut down, that's not the case for county projects. County administrators say they expect work to continue on county-managed road projects that have already started.
The Rochester Area Foundation set up a $1.6 million local fund to give loans to non-profit organizations.
In Moorhead, a new restaurant can't open as planned because a state permit didn't arrive.
For some state workers, Friday's shutdown came as a bit of a relief - at least some of the uncertainty about whether they'd be working or not was gone.
But Amanda Thoe, who works for the state Revenue Department, said the financial stress won't go away until she knows she can go back to work.
"Most of us have been feeling really the burden of stress for the past three to four weeks," Thoe told MPR's Morning Edition, adding that she's taken on odd jobs, avoided eating out and sold some of her possessions on Craigslist.
Thoe and her fiance, who also works for the Revenue Department, just bought a condo, so it "should be a happy time," she said. But they're also feeling like finances are tight. Thoe said she's sent out her resume, "just in case it goes for too long."
"I think we're both capable of finding other work if it comes to that," she said.
The Department of Employment and Economic Development said state workers were already filing claims for unemployment. Spokeswoman Kim Isenberg didn't have firm numbers but said the office was busy.
"Looks more like a Monday. Typically, when people file, it's the first week that they're unemployed. But today because it's a Friday and it's the first day that the folks who were laid off are unemployed, I'm sure there are some that want to get in and get that taken care of," Isenberg said.
After a one-week waiting period, unemployed workers are eligible to collect 50 percent of their pay, up to a maximum of $578. The soonest state employees would see jobless benefits show up in their bank accounts will be July 19 or 20.
(MPR reporters Laura Yuen, Mark Zdechlik, Martin Moylan, Brandt Williams and Dan Gunderson contributed to this report.)