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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As federal shutdown looms, state agencies told to start preparing

By Claire Withycombe Seattle Times

OLYMPIA – As a stalemate in “the other Washington” signals a potential shutdown of the federal government, some Washington state agencies have been directed to identify programs that could be affected if federal funds stop flowing to the state.

If Congress can’t pass a continuing resolution or spending bills by midnight on Saturday, the federal government would begin a partial shutdown Sunday, Oct. 1, the first day of the federal fiscal year.

It’s not yet clear which state initiatives and programs could be at risk. On Friday, Nona Snell, budget director for the state’s Office of Financial Management, sent an email to state agencies that get federal funding, asking them to fill out an Excel form by the end of the day on Oct. 2 identifying programs that could be impacted by a shutdown.

In the state’s current biennial budget, federal appropriations account for a little more than 25% of Washington’s operating and transportation budgets, according to the Office of Financial Management.

In the 2021 fiscal year, Washington received 32.6% of its revenue from the federal government, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Overall, U.S. states received 36.7% of their revenues from the feds that year. The analysis noted, however, that the figures “remained inflated by billions in COVID-19 pandemic relief aid.”

Agencies were asked to include information about reductions or termination of essential programs for Washington residents, the number of employees that could be laid off due to a lack of federal funds and information on “major contracts, grants or loans that would need to be terminated or suspended,” Snell wrote.

“Our primary focus at this time is on agencies with the largest federal funding at risk and/or those agencies that have indicated they are likely to face impacts immediately in the event of a shutdown,” Snell wrote.

A spokesperson for the Office of Financial Management said in an email that the state is focusing on some key agencies receiving federal funding including the Department of Health, the Department of Social and Health Services, the Health Care Authority, the Department of Services for the Blind and the Employment Security Department.

While some government entities will be exempt – Social Security checks, for example, will still go out – other functions will be severely curtailed. Federal agencies will stop all actions deemed nonessential, and millions of federal employees, including members of the military, won’t receive paychecks. There are roughly 54,000 federal employees in the state of Washington, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Contacted for comment, Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee, criticized “gamesmanship” in Congress.

“It’s just more of the same gamesmanship and it’s a game where everybody loses, because it’s incoherent, it’s ego-driven and what’s being asked for, as far as I can tell in Congress is going to barely make a dent in the deficit anyway,” Faulk said.

It is impossible to predict how long a shutdown would last. With Congress divided between a Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-led House, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s hard-right conservatives looking to use the shutdown as leverage for spending cuts, many are bracing for a stoppage that could last weeks.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.