ALBANY, N.Y. — If Congress won’t pay the bills, states will.
Governors and legislators — fearing what a federal shutdown would do to tourism and services to support the migrants flooding major cities — say they’re preparing to dip into their own coffers to fund programs if the spigot is shut off.
The growing experience of managing federal shutdowns, including one for 16 days in 2013 and another that lasted 35 days starting in late 2018, serves as a blueprint for what state governments with finite budgets can do to provide short-term relief.
Already, Arizona and Utah said they would pay to keep open their national parks, fearing the impact on tourism if they closed.
In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Maura Healey’s administration said it’s working with state agencies to “mitigate” the short-term effects of a shutdown in a state with 29,000 federal employees and more than one million residents with access to food stamps.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had practice at this over the last couple of years,” Democratic Massachusetts state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz told reporters on Wednesday. “If there was a prolonged shutdown, you may have to see the state pick up some of the pieces on that.”
Millions more Americans are set to have paychecks or government benefits delayed due to Washington gridlock, with hard-line conservatives in the House holding out support for a stopgap spending bill as they demand deep spending cuts.
The last time the federal government shut down, New York state delayed income tax and public college tuition payments for affected individuals. The state has more than 51,000 federal workers.
A renewal of programs like that hasn’t been publicly discussed in New York yet, but Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul warned earlier this week about the impacts of a shutdown on the state’s ability to handle the surging number of migrants that has exceeded more than 110,000 since last year.
“We’ll stand up, we’ll call them out, and just ask people in Washington to do what is so simple: Just get back to work and do what you’re sent there to do,” Hochul told reporters Wednesday.
The Department of Homeland Security employees, she said, might wind up being considered essential and allowed to stay on the job. But furloughs elsewhere in government might limit DHS’s ability to actually perform their duties.
DHS staff might “have to contact somebody at the Department of Labor” to complete a form, and that DOL employee may not be considered essential, and may not be there,” Hochul said.
Other states are similarly nervous about what a shutdown might mean for the programs that rely on close work with the federal government.
“Disaster aid for the state of Florida is number one,” said state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat.
“The communities that are still recovering from Ian are going to see checks get slowed down, recovery money for the rebuilding effort. The residents that are recovering from Idahlia, all of that reimbursement money that comes out of the FEMA DRF that money is going to get slowed down.
Moskowitz noted that “we’re still in hurricane season. What if we have another disaster while FEMA’s DRF is unfunded? We could be heading into a calamity where the response and the recovery and rebuilding efforts are dramatically impacted by that.”
Democrats have been quick to pounce on Republicans if a deal to fund the federal government isn’t struck this weekend — providing a state-by-state breakdown of the impact.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the state has built up its budget reserves for emergency situations, such as a federal shutdown. He warned that a stalemate in Washington would have “devastating consequences” on the state’s economy and national security.
“Servicemembers wouldn’t get their paychecks, travelers could face airport delays, and critical cancer research would be stalled,” the Democratic governor said. “It is completely avoidable and extreme House Republicans need to stop playing political games with peoples’ lives and keep the government open.”
New York Rep. Marc Molinaro, a GOP freshman, said a short-term extension is needed to keep critical services going, but he pinned higher spending and struggles at the southern border on President Joe Biden.
“I came to Congress to make a difference — not shut things down. But I also haven’t lost sight of what we are trying to accomplish. We are on the wrong track,” he said in a video address.
One of the most visible effects of a shutdown comes from the closure of national monuments. New York is home to the Statue of Liberty and part of Ellis Island, two landmarks whose closures became the most prominent symbols of a flailing national government during shutdowns in the 1990s.
Officials have found a way around that in the past couple of lengthy shutdowns. Citing the importance of tourism dollars and the need for a beacon of “strength and hope,” ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo had the state pay about $65,000 a day to fund the personnel needed to keep the sites open in 2018.
But there won’t be similar deals for each of the 425 sites managed by the National Park Foundation. Most can expect partial closures or complete shutdowns.
And that has local tourism officials worried.
Yosemite shuttering to visitors would be a “huge disruption” to Mariposa County, California, where 52 percent of all jobs are in the tourism industry, according to Tony McDaniel, a spokesperson for the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau.
McDaniel said there’s been talk around town about a potential shutdown since March, and that residents in a county largely dependent on tourism are “incredibly worried.”
Officials at the tourism bureau have been trying to encourage people with Yosemite reservations not to cancel them and instead visit the other attractions in the county.
“When I say everyone is impacted, everyone is impacted,” McDaniel said. “It trickles down.”
Lisa Kashinsky, Mia McCarthy and Eric He contributed to this report.