On Monday, we saw the US Senate pass legislation to keep the federal government running for three more weeks. If passed by both bodies and signed by President Trump, the agreement would extend funding and allow further negotiations on issues outside the budget discussion.
Both sides in Congress feel they are fighting for a principled stand on immigration and budget reform. Democrats want to see rights given to children who were brought to the US by parents without legal status, as well as increased funding for domestic, non-defense programs. Republicans have yet to allow a vote on the issue of “Dreamers” to be given legal status, but have committed to bring this up for a vote.
What is the result of a government shutdown then? It is important to know, should this happen again on February 8.
According to a report by the DC-paper The Hill, there are 2.1 million non-postal federal employees. Half of those are deemed “essential,” such as military or law enforcement. Those employees would continue to report to work, but would only receive paychecks after a shutdown concludes. Others, classified as “non-essential,” would not be allowed to work and pay is not guaranteed unless approved by Congress. Ironically, members of Congress continue to get paid during a shutdown because their salaries are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SNAP and disability insurance would largely remain unaffected by a shutdown as they are not funded by appropriations, but rather multi-year authorizations. Major responsibilities such as sending Social Security checks and operating the military would continue, but new applicants for Social Security and Disability would see significant slowdowns due to fewer employees processing their cases. Other agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would also take hits with reduced staffing. The FDA would have to cancel routine safety inspections, while the CDC would be unable to fully operate their flu program. That would be especially poor timing, given that we are in the midst of one of the most severe flu outbreaks in recent history. Currently, 45 Oklahomans have died this season, and 288 Oklahomans were hospitalized just in the past week due to symptoms, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
For kids, the best news coming from D.C. is that the three-week extension includes a provision for renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. This restores this major policy which expired at the end of September. Thankfully, our nation’s youth no longer risk losing their health insurance for that time period with passage of this short-term government extension.
While this federal stalemate is on hold for three weeks, we should not grow comfortable. We might be back to square one on February 8 should consensus not be found. In addition, if a new shutdown continues through March 1, some Head Start Programs (supporting early childhood education for low-income families) awaiting new contracts could be forced to close.
We should also remember that we have our own budget issues in Oklahoma. Our state government is currently operating without a complete budget for the current fiscal year and with another budget shortfall a near-certainty in the next year.
The first day of the regular 2018 state legislative session begins on February 5th. To help advocates, OICA will host an advocacy training that day to equip volunteers with tools to encourage better policies. If you can attend, please register at http://oica.org/events/women-and-children-first-advocacy-training/
We hope to see you there to join in our effort to get our state and federal government operating again!
By OICA CEO Joe Dorman