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How a federal government shutdown could affect Vermont

Several men wearing suits walk around a corner toward an open door
J. Scott Applewhite
Associated Press
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., heads to a a closed-door Republican strategy session on funding the government and averting a shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

The federal government will enter into a shutdown on Oct. 1 if Congress can’t strike a deal to extend funding into the next federal fiscal year — and Vermont officials are watching closely.

A group of House Republicans is threatening to shut the federal government down if a new supplemental budget bill doesn't include cuts to many domestic programs, along with tougher immigration policies.

Gov. Phil Scott's administration has begun preparing for a possible shutdown.

Commissioner of Finance Adam Greshin said he sent a memo to agency heads on Monday alerting them to the situation in Washington, D.C. and telling them to draw down as many federal funds as possible before the end of the week.

"Really the main preparation on our part is to make sure every penny that is due us is in the bank," Greshin said.

The state has cash that could be used to "maintain critical programs" in the event of a shutdown, according to a detailed memo from the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office.

Here are some of the ways a shutdown could affect Vermont, according to state and federal leaders.

Food and basic needs programs

As of Thursday, advocates were still trying to understand how food assistance programs might be immediately affected in the event of a shutdown.

“The people who staff our state agencies are working really hard to seek clarity," said Anore Horton with Hunger Free Vermont. "And they are working to do their best to mitigate the consequences of this potential federal government shutdown for us here in Vermont."

Horton said SNAP benefits will continue under a shutdown, at least through October, and the Meals on Wheels program is funded through the end of the year. There’s less certainty around the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food program — as well as Head Start and fuel assistance.

Vermonters who work for the federal government

Federal workers living in Vermont are becoming increasingly anxious about the prospect of a federal government shutdown.

Daniel Scott lives in St. Albans and is with the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. That includes employees at the IRS, Homeland Security, and Social Security Administration, among other places.

Daniel Scott said federal workers are worried how a shutdown could delay everything from personnel issues to promotions for the next fiscal year.

And he said if there's a funding lapse, all leave for employees would be canceled — and workers would go on furlough status, wondering when they'll get paid.

"One individual was asking me about the parental leave they were about to take," Daniel Scott said. "They have a kid on the way... and so now they're saying, 'Do I have to make other arrangements? Or can I go ahead and do that?' So that's a huge question mark for that soon-to-be father."

However, FEMA's top official in Vermont said a federal government shutdown would not affect the roughly 350 employees currently working on flood recovery relief programs in the state.

In the event of a shutdown, Will Roy said Thursday that FEMA staff would be considered essential workers and paid out of a special fund.

"So we're in a good place — all the personnel we have deployed will continue to stay," Roy said. "They're paid out of the Disaster Relief Fund, which continues to have funds in it and available for us to continue our operations."

Town flood recovery

A federal government shutdown could delay town flood recovery projects.

Doug Farnham, who is Vermont's chief flood recovery officer, said a shutdown likely would not impact assistance applications from homeowners. 

But Farnham said towns could see delays on the review of larger infrastructure projects until the government reopens.

"For a lot of the smaller municipalities that are already having cash flow issues, this delay in the obligation timeframe would definitely cause them financial stress — and they're already under financial stress," Farnham said.

If there is an extended government shutdown, Farnham said some towns might be eligible for short-term federal loans to help finance their infrastructure projects.

Flood relief for farmers

Sen. Peter Welch said a shutdown could delay emergency flood relief for Vermont's farmers.

Speaking on the Senate floor last week, Welch reminded his colleagues that a handful of important disaster relief programs are administrated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and they would be affected by a possible shutdown.

"The impact on Vermont's farm land is stunning," Welch said. "The USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service estimates anywhere between 145,000 and 686,000 acres of agricultural land in this state was impacted by flooding." 

Small Business Administration officials say their disaster relief programs would not be affected by a shutdown.

No immediate impact to Burlington airport travelers

Vermonters scheduled to fly into or out of Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport won’t have to worry about any shutdown-related delays or cancellations — in the short term, at least.

That’s according to Director of Aviation Nic Longo, who says all federal employees at the airport are classified as “essential workers.”

“There is no impact at this time in air travel, in screening, in air traffic control services,” Longo said Friday. “It’s incredibly unfortunate if there is going to be a shutdown, but the men and women that are working with TSA and FAA … they’re going to still report to work. They are essential employees.”

Those workers, however, will not be receiving a paycheck. Which means that if the shutdown persists for longer than a few weeks, Longo said, the airport could end up dealing with the sorts of workforce challenges that come when any employer fails to compensate its workers.

“Twenty, 30, 40 days without receiving a paycheck, those are major life issues and challenges that any individual or household would have to deal with,” Longo said. “A prolonged shutdown would be a concern, but at this time I have no indication — and I’m working with our federal partners, and they have no indication — that there will be any impact to air travel.”

Longo wasn’t immediately able to provide the number of people at Burlington International that work for either the Transportation Security Administration or the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control operations. But he said non-federal airport employees will be “absolutely standing shoulder to shoulder to help as best as we possibly can under the circumstances.”

“And what does that mean? It might mean just lending an ear to maybe a lunch. And those of the types of things we want to be able to support our partners with,” he said. “This is going to be a tough time, and these are our colleagues and our friends and our partners.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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