50,000 federal workers, military, in Arizona spared as shutdown averted

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(Video by Renee Romo/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Congress approved a stopgap measure to keep the government open with just hours to spare Saturday night, heading off a shutdown that would have meant the loss of a paycheck for close to 50,000 federal workers and active-duty military in Arizona – and they’re not the only ones who would have felt the pinch.

Government contractors stop getting paid in a shutdown, small businesses could lose sales as nervous consumers cut spending and anyone who needs a government service, from processing a passport application to visiting a national park, would feel the shutdown firsthand.

“This is about government, our budget. It’s what we pay taxes for,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Danny Seiden said late last week. “Our state depends on the federal government to do just this, just this one thing, which is keep the government open.”

But Congress approved a resolution late Saturday to keep government open for another 45 days while budget talks continue, and President Joe Biden signed it with less than an hour to spare before Saturday’s midnight deadline.

None of the 12 appropriations bills that would fund the government in fiscal 2024, which began Sunday, have passed. Without a budget to fund operations, the government has to shut down.

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“It’s very politically unpopular to have a government shutdown, very costly to our government,” Danny Court, senior economist for Scottsdale-based Elliott D. Pollack & Co., said before Saturday’s vote.

According to the Congressional Research Service, more than 2 million civilian workers would stop being paid in a government shutdown, 32,510 of whom are in Arizona. The state is also home to 17,400 active-duty military who would have been affected, according to the White House.

Essential federal workers – like soldiers, Border Patrol agents and air-traffic controllers – still have to show up for work in a shutdown, even though they will not get paid.

“Those people … will be basically forced volunteers at that point,” Court said of the essential workers.

Some government services that are not subject to annual appropriations continue in a shutdown. The post office would be open and Social Security and Medicare payments would be sent. Agencies like the Transportation Security Administration may run at reduced levels and some programs would be able to continue for a while before they run out of funding, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

While national parks would have closed in a shutdown, Gov. Katie Hobbs had pledged to use state funds to keep the Grand Canyon open, because of the park’s importance to the state’s tourism industry. But other small businesses would likely have suffered as a result of the “ripple effect” in the economy from federal workers not being paid, Court said.

“All of those employees that aren’t receiving pay, will probably be delaying purchases,” Court said of the impact of a shutdown.

Congress has been unable to pass a budget for fiscal 2024, which started Sunday. Lawmakers passed a short-term measure to keep government operating at previous funding levels just hours before a Sunday shutdown. (Photo courtesy Architect of the Capitol)

That was echoed by Mike Huckins, vice president of public affairs for the Greater Phoenix Chamber, who stressed how much the reduction in consumer spending can affect the state’s economy.

“We want them out there spending their paycheck,” Huckins said late last week of federal workers. “Definitely trepidatious times, you know with the deadline looming.”

Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said a worker who is trying to stretch that last paycheck is less likely to go to the dry cleaners or visit a florist if they don’t have to. And companies doing business directly with the government could lose sales entirely.

Sullivan said that the last government shutdown, from December 2018 to early 2019, affected an estimated 41,000 small businesses in Arizona, putting an estimated $24 million in contract business at risk during the five-week shutdown – the longest on record.

“Putting that amount of money at risk is just not, it’s just not helpful,” Sullivan said last week of the threat of another shutdown. “And it kind of breathes more uncertainty into the ups and downs of small businesses.”

Seiden noted that Arizona has “thousands of federal contract employees as well, and those folks tend to be in the manufacturing defense and aerospace, right, which we rank fifth in the country for.”

“You know, when you make a contract you expect to get paid, when you’re not getting paid that tends to impact commerce in a negative way,” he said. “So to quote (House Speaker) Kevin McCarthy, yeah, no one wins in a shutdown, and Arizona has a lot to lose.”

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The continuing resolution to keep the lights on passed the House 335-91 Saturday afternoon, with five of Arizona’s six GOP members opposing it and Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Tucson, joining the state’s three Democratic House members to support the measure. Both Arizona senators voted for the resolution when it passed the Senate 88-9 on Saturday evening.

Had the government shut down this weekend, it would have been the fourth in the past 10 years. While the last-minute deal keeps the government operating, it will only be until mid-November when another shutdown could occur.

“Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy anymore for us. And we’ve seen in past sessions that this government, this political leadership will allow a shutdown to happen,” Seiden said.

He and others said the best way to avoid a shutdown – or at least keep it from dragging on at this point – is for taxpayers to reach out to their elected representatives to let them know how a shutdown would affect them, and the economy.

“People are asking, ‘How do I feel the shutdown?'” Seiden said. “Go to an airport during a government shutdown. It’s not fun.”

Renee Romo(she/her/hers)
News Broadcast Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Renee Romo plans to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Romo is a White House Correspondents’ Association Scholar, who has interned with Arizona Education News Service. Romo also writes for PolitiFact.