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How a federal government shutdown would impact Michigan

us capitol
The U.S. government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. Sunday if Congress doesn’t reach a deal before then. (Bridge photo by Lauren Gibbons)
  • U.S. government could shut down Sunday morning at 12:01 a.m. if Congress doesn’t pass a spending plan
  • Many federal employees face furloughs, most essential functions would remain intact
  • Few immediate impacts expected in Michigan, but risks on the horizon

If federal lawmakers can’t reach a deal to fund the government before midnight Saturday, thousands of federal workers in Michigan could be furloughed from their jobs, and funding for food assistance and other benefits could be threatened. 

But although more than 40 percent of Michigan’s state budget comes from the federal government, state officials are confident that most state services will continue without interruption — at least for now. 

The state has a “short-term plan to maintain services,” Lauren Leeds, director of communications for the State Budget Office, told Bridge Michigan.


Starting Oct. 1, Michigan agencies will operate under a $81.7 billion budget signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in July. State agencies are still working to determine how a shutdown would impact state programs supported by federal funding, Leeds said. 

“We urge our federal partners to work together to come to a solution that will avoid a federal government shutdown,” Leeds said, adding that federal lawmakers “should follow Michigan’s example” and work toward bipartisan budget conversations.  

A bipartisan, short-term funding plan that would keep the government running through mid-November is pending in the U.S. Senate, but a push by some House Republicans to further trim the federal budget and increased security at the U.S.-Mexico border threatens to derail a bipartisan deal before the deadline.

If the two sides can’t reach an agreement, here’s a look at how Michigan residents could be affected, according to the White House and other federal agencies: 

Most essential benefits, operations unaffected

Retirement, disability and health care benefits provided under Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would not be impacted by a government shutdown, nor would military veterans benefits. 

Per 2021 guidance from the Department of Education, federal student aid would continue under a shutdown, but could be delayed or hampered by a lack of staffing while federal workers are furloughed. 

Government employees deemed essential — including active-duty military, law enforcement and airport security — typically remain on the job during shutdowns, albeit without pay. Others are furloughed until a spending plan is approved.

About 27,000 full-time federal civilian employees are currently based in Michigan

The U.S. Postal Service will continue to operate as usual. Federal courts have enough funding to keep operating normally for at least two weeks, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Food, early education benefits in flux 

A shutdown could have an immediate impact on low-income families who rely on federal government assistance for food or child care benefits. 

According to the White House, 207,728 Michigan residents eligible for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would be at risk of losing benefits, as a federal contingency fund would likely run dry “after just a few days.” 

A shutdown would also immediately end access to the Head Start early childhood education program for 10,000 children nationwide. 

Food assistance benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are also federally funded. October benefits would continue as scheduled, but agency officials recently told reporters that a prolonged shutdown would have broader and more serious implications on the program.

Travel OK, national parks in limbo

If the government shuts down, vacations and travel will most likely not be disrupted — except for people planning on visiting national parks during peak fall color season. 

Airports would continue to operate during a government shutdown, but skeleton staffing and paycheck pauses could lead to “significant delays” for travelers, according to the White House. 

A state-by-state breakdown from the White House estimates that 1,142 airport security officers and 245 air traffic controllers in Michigan are deemed essential and would be required to show up to work unpaid to keep air traffic running in the event of a government shutdown. 

It’s currently unclear how the Biden administration will handle federally-maintained national parks, lakeshores and forests under a shutdown. 

During the 2018-19 shutdown, some of the nation’s most popular parks were kept open at limited capacity, but the U.S. Government Accountability Office found the Trump administration violated the law by pulling funding from entrance fees to keep the sites open. Parks were fully closed during a 16-day shutdown in October 2013 during former President Barack Obama’s administration, resulting in a multimillion-dollar hit to the economy. 

Some states with national parks, including Utah, are preparing to step in and temporarily keep operations going to avoid closure. 

Michigan has one national park — Isle Royale National Park in the Upper Peninsula — that under normal circumstances would remain open through the end of October. The state is also home to the Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes national lakeshores and three national forests. 

In 2019, local volunteers helped keep Sleeping Bear Dunes afloat by providing maintenance and trash collection while federal employees who typically manage operations were furloughed.  

Disaster funding, infrastructure grants at risk

A government shutdown could deplete federal disaster relief funds and complicate responses in future emergencies, according to the White House. That could affect eight ongoing relief efforts in Michigan including restoration from the 2020 Midland dam breach

The White House also warned of delays on infrastructure projects across the country due to delays in environmental reviews and permitting. In past shutdowns, carmakers faced delays in the EPA’s ability to certify that new vehicles meet federal emissions standards before they could be sold.

Research projects funded by the federal government would also likely be halted.

The most recent federal government shutdown in 2019 halted research in the Great Lakes by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, weakening weather forecasts, among other programs.

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