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Here’s how a federal government shutdown could affect the Wasatch Back

The Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. The U.S. government faces a shutdown unless Congress manages to overcome a budget impasse before the Sept. 30 funding deadline.
J. Scott Applewhite
The Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. The U.S. government faces a shutdown unless Congress manages to overcome a budget impasse before the Sept. 30 funding deadline.

So what exactly happens during a federal government shutdown?

Update: Congress passed a stopgap funding bill Saturday, Sept. 30, just hours before the government would have shut down. Signed into law by President Joe Biden shortly afterward, the bill will keep the federal government funded for another 45 days until Nov. 17.

The term government “shutdown” can be a bit of a misnomer. Legal experts say it’s more of a “lapse in appropriations,” or the government not paying its bills.

It means many agencies close down or furlough workers, but here in Utah the impact won’t be immediate.

Essential federal workers, like air traffic controllers, Transportation Security Administration officials and other federal law enforcement, will keep working without pay. Under a 2019 law, they get back pay when the government comes back online.

More locally, arts organization North Summit Unite is hosting a Smithsonian exhibit. The Smithsonian Institution could lose funding during a shutdown, but the exhibit on display at Ledges Event Center in Coalville is already paid for and won’t be closing until its scheduled date at the end of October.

Mail will still be delivered, too. The United States Postal Service is a self-sufficient company that doesn’t rely on tax dollars.

Social Security and veterans' assistance checks will continue to be mailed. VA centers will remain open, but other veterans’ services, like job training, may be curtailed.

Assuming the shutdown lasts less than three months, medicare, medicaid and federal disability insurance will still pay hospitals.

Federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families have enough funding to run normally for at least 30 days.

But the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program doesn’t have the money to run during a shutdown. Utah Governor Spencer Cox has pledged to fund WIC in the interim.

“It’s extremely disappointing that Congress is unwilling to fulfill its most basic obligation of funding the government, but Utah is prepared to step up and do what it takes to reduce the impact of a shutdown on Utah families,” he said.

Cox said Utah will also keep Utah’s national parks open, as long as the Department of the Interior allows it. Utah did this in 2013 when the government shut down for 16 days.

This week Cox estimated it cost the state $1 million to keep the parks open, and Utah was never reimbursed. Sen. Mike Lee has written a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland requesting Utah be reimbursed this time around.

Keeping the parks open might be worth it: the governor’s office estimates Utah’s local economies would lose $7.1 million daily during a federal shutdown.

It is not clear whether the governor’s pledge extends to keeping national monuments open, but national services that don’t require staffing won’t be affected by furloughs.

Unlike other federal employees, members of Congress will not be furloughed and will continue to be paid in the event of a shutdown.

However, Utah Representative John Curtis reintroduced the No Work, No Pay Act, which would withhold Congress’ paychecks until the government is back up and running.

Every time the government shuts down, Curtis asks the Clerk of the House to withhold his own pay, and he said he plans to do so again. This would be the fourth shutdown while he has been in office and the third time introducing the No Work, No Pay Act.

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