Essential or non-essential: What would a government shutdown mean in Eastern CT?

Eastern Connecticut is getting ready for a government shutdown, knowing the impact it had in 2019.

If Congress doesn’t pass a budget by Oct. 1, it is very likely that the federal government will shut down. This means many federal workers will be furloughed or temporarily working without pay, and be paid back later. Non-essential work from federal agencies would also stop, according to the Associated Press.

This lack of pay and government work would also impact things locally.

As Electric Boat is a major government contractor and was most recently awarded $517 million for submarine repairs on Sept. 18, they might not be able to do some work because of furloughed federal employees, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) said.

Will Electric Boat employees be considered essential

Who is considered a non-essential government employee is “a subjective and fluid” matter. For example, one person doing a job for the Department of Homeland Security could be considered non-essential, but someone doing the same job for the Department of Defense is essential, Courtney said.

“We’re waiting for guidance from a lot of the departments on how they plan to make that distinction,” he said Monday.

What about Social Security?

Consider Social Security. The benefits themselves are protected from a government shutdown because it comes from a trust fund, but there could be fewer employees administering it during the shutdown, Courtney said.

A lack of employees likely means beneficiaries would not be able to verify benefits, correct or update records, process requests from third parties, or replace Medicare cards, according to Courtney’s office.

Food banks are stocking up to help U.S. Coast Guard families

The shutdown can also put federal employees and their families in tough situation, even needing food assistance.

During the 2018-2019 shutdown, which lasted 35 days, U.S. Coast Guard families and others needed pop-up food banks to stay stable, Courtney said.

What about food stamps?

Beyond federal employees, people receiving certain benefits may also be affected. For example, WIC has a contingency fund that can last a few days. After that runs out, people on WIC, including 47,236 across Connecticut, may not be able to use WIC for groceries, as the states would have limited WIC funds remaining, Courtney's office stated.

File photo of Annie Stockton, vice president of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in Groton.
File photo of Annie Stockton, vice president of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in Groton.

“The exasperating thing is that this is so avoidable,” Courtney said.

This translates into more needs to be met by food pantries and food banks. The United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, with its Gemma Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, is reaching out to the Coast Guard, the Groton Sub Base, and other entities to plan, and make sure the organization has more food than normal ready, President and CEO Dina Sears-Graves said.

“If we can at least take care of the cost of food, they can use their money to pay for rent,” she said.

Even with this help, a large group of people not receiving their paychecks still affects the economy, with people not spending money at the gas station, grocery store, or other places, This is compounded by the fact that the most recent ALICE report states 37% of New London County families were already struggling to meet basic needs, Sears-Graves said.

“Any time there’s some disruption to our economy, it impacts everybody,” she said.

If the shutdown is averted, the extra food gathered will still be put to good use, Sears-Graves said.

What is a shutdown?

Lawmakers are supposed to fund the government by passing 12 spending bills, but working on said bills is a time-consuming process. Temporary extensions called continuing resolutions are often used to keep the government running. One meant to keep the government running until Nov. 17 is expected to pass in the Senate, but faces “long odds” in passing in the House, according to the Associated Press.

Will the federal shutdown?

As the bipartisan bill favored in the Senate features keeping most government funding at current levels, while adding $6 billion each for U.S. Disaster relief and supporting Ukraine, another proposal from House Republicans features an 8% overall spending cut, and more support for border security, the AP reports.

As a debt ceiling bill passed in May 314 to 117 in the House, the votes “are there” to avoid the shutdown, but the onus is on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to bring it to the floor, Courtney said.

“He’s got to navigate (a group of Republicans) trying to block the bipartisan bill,” he said.

If a shutdown happens, it may be a short shutdown due to the favorability of the Senate bill and pressure on McCarthy, though shutdowns in the recent past have lasted weeks, Courtney said.

This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: Eastern Connecticut readies government shutdown: What to know