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Federal Government Shutdown: How Would It Affect RI?

Monday, March 14, 2011


Veterans, Social Security beneficiaries, federal contractors and nonessential federal employees are among the groups that could be affected by a federal government shutdown if Congress fails to pass yet another stopgap spending bill by Friday.

The House is expected to vote early this week on a temporary measure that would keep the government running through April 8. The bill, which would create the sixth short-term stopgap this fiscal year, would then be sent to the Senate for a vote.

Approving another stopgap would allow any Rhode Islanders with the potential to be affected by a government shutdown to carry on with business as usual, but two members of Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation say the country can’t afford to allow Congress to continue taking a wait-and-see approach with the federal budget.

Can’t Run Two Weeks At A Time

Jonathon Dworkin, Communications Director for Congressman James Langevin, said it was important to remember that all “essential” employees would continue as is in the case of a government shutdown, but that there are plenty of Rhode Islanders who could face a variety of inconveniences if Congress can’t find a way to come to an agreement.

Dworkin said Congressman Langevin supports approving another stopgap, but the government shouldn’t continue to rely on temporary measures.

“The country shouldn’t continue to run two weeks at a time,” Dworkin said. “At a time when the public’s trust in government is at an all-time low, this is not going to help.”

Dworkin said Langevin’s office would not close even if government were to shutdown, citing the Congressman’s commitment to his constituents.

What Could Happen?

A federal government shutdown, whether it comes Friday or on April 8, would not be unprecedented.

During President Clinton’s administration, the government stopped running for five days in November 1995 and again from Dec. 15 through Jan. 6. According to a Congressional Research Service report, the shutdown had “had ripple effects through all sectors of the economy.”

The report says veterans experienced a “major curtailment in services, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel” and law enforcement and public safety faced delays “in the processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.” In addition, thousands of bankruptcy cases, delinquent child support cases and the hiring of 400 border patrol agents were suspended.

The processing of benefits, passports and federal contracts were delayed or suspended and 368 national parks were closed, which cost an estimated “$14.2 million per day in tourism Revenues.”

Stop Playing Political Chicken

Freshman Congressman David Cicilline outlined his concerns over a federal government shutdown in an e-mailed statement to GoLocalProv.

“If the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives does not come to a compromise and pass legislation next week to continue to fund the federal government,” Cicilline said. “Residents in Rhode Island and across the country would be at risk of a delay or, at worst, no longer receiving direct federal benefits for a period of time. For example, 74,000 veterans in our state would likely experience a delay in the processing of their disability, pension, education and other federal benefits. And, more than 200,000 Social Security beneficiaries in Rhode Island could see a delay in the processing of their claims and benefits. “

Cicilline said he understands the country needs to curtail its spending, but sensible solutions should be the focus.

“The fact of the matter is that we have to cut spending, but we have to do it responsibly. We have to be serious and smart about how we address America’s budget challenges,” he said. “While we work to work to find a reasonable solution to cut spending and lower our deficit, we cannot cut what helps us create jobs, innovate for the future, and remain competitive in the global marketplace. The Republican leadership must stop playing political chicken with the federal budget and get serious about a long-term solution to funding our government and reducing our deficit.”

Editor’s Note: Governor Chafee’s office did not respond to a request for comment.


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