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As a federal government shutdown looms, Washington state officials brace for impact

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
Creative Commons
Creative Commons
The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

As federal lawmakers race against the clock to keep the government running, officials are bracing for impacts in the Pacific Northwest. Many are still sorting out how a possible federal shutdown could impact operations here, including federally funded grant programs and contracts.

For federal employees, the shutdown could mean being furloughed or working without pay.

More than 50,000 federal employees in Washington – and at least another 18,000 in Oregon – could be affected if a shutdown does happen, according to Andrew Lautz, an analyst with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

But those numbers don't include the thousands of military personnel in the region who could also end up working without pay.

"For military personnel, the Navy has their third-largest fleet concentration in the U.S. at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state," Lautz said.

He added that this possible shutdown is "uniquely broad" compared to other shutdowns in recent history.

"It could be the first shutdown that affects every agency and department that Congress is responsible for funding since 2013, so the first one in 10 years," he said.

A partial government shutdown happened in 2018 and marked the longest shutdown in history. A report from the Congressional Budget Office estimates the U.S. lost roughly $3 billion in economic activity as a result.

Government officials and experts worry that a long shutdown could have wide-reaching effects on air travel, business loans, food assistance programs, and more. But some Washington agencies say they'll use whatever funds are available to prevent possible disruptions to services even if a short shutdown happens.

A spokesperson for the Washington Department of Health said via email it will continue providing a special nutrition program for women and children and has enough funding to keep the program operating without additional federal dollars for now.

Washington officials say they will know more later this week about the possible impact on other programs and services.

Without decisive action from federal lawmakers, the government will shut down 12:01 a.m. on Sunday.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.