Michigan is okay, for now, as a federal government shutdown drags on, according to state budget officials.
But they caution a continuation beyond early February could have “devastating effects” on state agencies and budgets. Among their concerns are federal food and housing programs that assist lower-income residents and families, funding of tribal governments and the impact on local economies where federal workers live. Other headaches for the state include emissions testing for the auto industry and environmental monitoring and weather forecasting in the Great Lakes.
What is already the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history shows no imminent signs of ending, as President Trump and House Democrats continue to clash over the president’s request for more than $5 billion to construct a wall along the southern border.
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are working without pay or on furlough, including more than 5,000 in Michigan, according to a recent analysis of federal data by Governing Magazine.
Roughly 40 percent of Michigan’s nearly $57 billion overall budget comes from Washington, though not all of that money is affected by the funding lapse. The state budget office recently asked state departments and agencies to provide information about major impacts through Feb. 5, and will reassess the situation if the shutdown lingers past the weekend.
“Unfortunately, federal shutdowns or talks of federal shutdowns have become all too commonplace, which means we here in the state budget office don’t start to take it seriously until the federal government shuts down for a prolonged period of time,” Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for Michigan’s budget office, told Bridge in an email.
“A prolonged shutdown could have devastating effects for Michigan,” Weiss wrote, “but our assessment shows no major impacts through (Feb.) 5.”
Here are six things to know about the federal government shutdown and its impact on Michigan.
How much federal money in Michigan is at stake?
So far, about $3.2 billion in federally funded state programs have been identified as potentially affected by the shutdown, according to the state budget office. Michigan receives roughly $22 billion from the federal government, but not every federal dollar in the state is affected by the partial shutdown. Many federal departments already have received funding; the shutdown primarily affects federal departments including Interior, Transportation, Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development, along with the Environmental Protection Agency.
How long can Michigan operate under a shutdown before a significant impact is felt?
About 45 days, or until Feb. 5. Michigan is about halfway through that window now, since the shutdown began Dec. 22, Weiss said.
The state will ask departments for longer-term impacts that extend into February should the shutdown continue past Jan. 21, he said.
What state programs are at risk right now?
While the roughly 1.2 million food assistance recipients in Michigan won’t lose their benefits in February, the state will pay them early — as soon as Saturday — because of the shutdown.
As a result, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is advising food assistance recipients to budget their February benefits so that they last through the month, since these are not extra funds but an early distribution of February funds.
“We know we’re good through February,” spokesman Bob Wheaton said, adding that there is a potential federal funding problem in March if the shutdown isn’t resolved before then. It’s not yet known how the state might provide the benefits at that point.
Food assistance benefits, known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are entirely federally funded.
In addition, federal funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program has not been reauthorized. Wheaton said about 39,000 people receive cash assistance through the block-grant program each month through Michigan’s Family Independence Program.
TANF dollars also fund some foster care services, tuition scholarships, a family support subsidy program for families whose child has severe developmental disabilities and some other programs, according to the state budget office’s review.
Wheaton said the state does not yet know what will happen to TANF-funded programs should the shutdown extend beyond Feb. 5. There is enough federal money left over from the last fiscal year and the first quarter of the state’s fiscal year, which began in October, to operate until then, according to the state.
Other programs the state identified as potentially affected in February include state subsidies for low-income renters run by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and a slowdown in grants from the federal Justice and Housing and Urban Development departments that is likely because of federal employees on furlough.
What does the shutdown mean for the environment?
The shutdown is temporarily thwarting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research in the Great Lakes. It’s weakening forecasts of weather, such as lake-effect snow, and would jeopardize the U.S. Coast Guard’s effort to predict where oil would flow if Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline ruptured in the turbulent Straits of Mackinac, however unlikely that may be.
Computers that feed information into NOAA’s Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System — a high-powered set of three-dimensional computer models — were turned off in late December, agency researchers told Bridge.
Some “essential” NOAA staffers would still work around the Great Lakes with the U.S. Coast Guard during a spill response, but they would lack up-to-date data to predict where oil would travel after the first few hours of a spill — and know where to place oil booms.
The shutdown is also jeopardizing a project to track toxic algal blooms (formally known as cyanobacteria) in Lake Erie, a drinking water source for 11 million people.
"The cyanobacteria blooms are going to start to grow a few months from now in Lake Erie. Tracking them and warning people requires that buoys be built, instrumented and placed in the water in a few months," said Bradley Cardinale, director of the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, sponsored by NOAA and the University of Michigan. “At present, that work has come to a screeching halt, which puts the tracking of toxic algal blooms at risk for next summer."
On land, the shutdown halted research of wolves and moose on Isle Royale that was considered the world’s longest-running predator-prey study. Scientists had been counting and studying the wildlife on the remote Lake Superior island since 1958. But the study was on National Parks Service property.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it expects minimal budget pain from the shutdown. The agency reported typical federal spending of $120 million per year, most of which comes from the EPA. But DEQ has about $269 million in awards and available funds, and “EPA has indicated that DEQ can continue to draw federal funds even during the shutdown,” according to the state budget office review.
But the shutdown means Michigan’s polluters will face less oversight from the EPA. That agency furloughed most of its 600 pollution inspectors nationwide, according to a New York Times report.
“The absence increases the chances that, either by design or by accident, companies might emit illegal levels of contaminants into the air or water without detection, for weeks on end,” the newspaper reported. (Click here to view a map of recent EPA enforcement actions in Michigan.)
The shutdown also has implications for the state’s auto industry, as carmakers say it has caused delays in the EPA’s ability to certify that new vehicles meet federal emissions standards before they can be sold.
How does the shutdown affect Native American tribes in Michigan?
The shutdown could wallop some tribal governments in Michigan — particularly the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, whose 43,000 members make it the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River.
Chairman Aaron Payment says his tribe typically depends on roughly $100,000 a day in federal funding for a range of services — from staffing health care, to public safety and food and nutrition programs. The tribe may will start burning through reserves to keep services open, Payment told members of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources this week.
Public administration jobs play a particularly large role in Indian Country, meaning tribes are disproportionately harmed by furloughs and missing paychecks as federal agencies shutter, Payment added.
“A single salary may support an extended Native family, sending harmful ripples throughout the tribal nation and surrounding communities,” he said in written testimony. “The uncertainty of a shutdown also compounds the challenges tribal nations face attracting and retaining professionals to work in health care and other skilled professions that are critical to fulfilling the federal government’s treaty and trust promises to tribal nations.”
Payment said his tribe “ate about $1 million in lost federal revenues” during the federal shutdown and sequestration of 2013, losing a physician and five other medical staffers.
How else has the shutdown affected the state?
More than 5,700 federal employees work for agencies that are affected by the shutdown in Michigan, according to Governing magazine. The state is not as heavily impacted as other states, such as Virginia and California, that have higher shares of federal civilian employees, but the impact of missed paychecks is starting to be noticed.
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency said Thursday that about 400 federal employees have filed to receive unemployment benefits as of Jan. 5. The agency said it has extended office hours and has updated its guidance for federal employees.
Some airports have seen long lines at security checkpoints amid reports of Transportation Security Administration officers not showing up to work, though officials at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus say no major impacts have yet been felt here.
Some Detroit-area city and county governments have stepped in to help by offering extensions to furloughed workers for taxes and payments for other municipal services, according to reports. Some Michigan credit unions also have offered furloughed workers no-interest loans and waivers of some fees.