With less than a week to prevent a government shutdown, Congress appears stuck without a spending deal.
A shutdown beginning Oct. 1 could impact Americans in ways small and large, from shuttering national park facilities and affecting services such as Social Security and Medicare to disrupting financial markets. Millions of federal workers may also be furloughed or confront delays in with their pay, including many in the Boston area.
There would be no positive outcome from a shutdown, says Mike Gayzagian. Gayzagian is president of American Federation of Government Employees’ Local 2617, a union representing about 560 Transportation Security Administration officers in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. TSA employees would still be required to go to work in a shutdown, but their pay wouldn’t resume until Congress reaches a deal.
“Obviously people's mortgages and rents and other bills, they don't wait and people have to find a way,” Gayzagian said. “I would say the majority [of us] live check to check. And so, yeah, it creates a huge burden on people in terms of being able to pay their bills.”
The turmoil of a shutdown could also impact staffing at agencies like the TSA, says Gayzagian. Making sure checkpoints are staffed correctly is critical to the airport functioning correctly, and if officers quit, it becomes a burden on management to maintain security.
“People may say, you know, ‘This job isn’t worth it. I don’t want to be in an organization where this kind of thing can happen,’” he said. “And so we'll start losing officers. And that's going to place a greater burden on the officers who remain, and you can kind of get into a downward spiral if it goes on too long.”
The TSA isn't the only federal agency that stands to lose. Undine Kipka is an environmental engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and President of AFGE Local 3428, a union representing about 450 EPA employees in Boston and Chelmsford, Mass. She says some members are living paycheck to paycheck, but many members join the agency because they’re mission driven.
“We're not here to make the big bucks, right?” Kipka said. “We care about protecting human health and the environment. And a lot of us, you know, with shutdown threats like this, are severely impacted.”
Kipka says that the EPA may receive some carryover funding that could support employees for a few days, but it’s not clear how long that could support the agency’s full staff. Most EPA employees would be furloughed for the duration of the shutdown, according to the agency’s contingency plan.
The impact may be felt even more intensely in the Boston area where the cost of living is so high, says Kipka. Federal student loan payments will also resume in October after a years-long pause, and many newer employees are starting at low pay grades, making them particularly vulnerable to the shutdown.
Kipka’s message to Congress is clear.
“Fund the government, figure it out and make sure that EPA workers who work for you get paid,” she said.
The last government shutdown, starting late 2018 into early 2019, lasted 35 days and was the longest shutdown to date. Approximately four million federal employees nationwide would be impacted immediately by the shutdown.