National Politics

Here’s what Idaho can expect in a government shutdown

What happens when the government shuts down?

The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.
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The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.

Everyone has a better idea of what to expect during a government shutdown after living through the past two, particularly the one that lasted three weeks in October 2013.

Idaho has more than 11,000 federal workers; the last time, about half of those were furloughed. The impact was the greatest in Southwest Idaho, since about 9,000 of Idaho’s federal jobs are here.

If the federal government partially shuts down starting Friday, how would that affect the Gem State?

U.S. mail

The U.S. Postal Service is an independent organization with its own funds and is not dependent on Congress passing a budget, so no interruptions take place in mail and parcel delivery.

Social Security

Even though the Social Security Administration could face furloughs, checks will go out because Social Security is considered a “mandatory” program. Same with Medicare and other so-called entitlements that don’t require annual appropriations.


The IRS likely will still process payments, but audits and refunds might be delayed. A shutdown plan posted on the Treasury Department’s website shows that nearly 44 percent of the IRS’ 80,565 employees would be exempt from being furloughed.

Food inspections

Safety-related inspections might continue, but food businesses that have federal inspectors in their plants could be out of luck, as they were in 2013. Investigations into violations could be delayed.

Unemployment, food stamps

The Employment and Training Administration handed out unemployment checks in 2013. The U.S. Department of Agriculture kept food stamps going.

U.S. military, police agencies

Congress will have to pass legislation like it did in 2013 if members of the armed forces are to get paid as normal. Furloughed civilian workers won’t be paid unless Congress votes to provide them back pay when the shutdown ends, as it did in 2013.

But law enforcement, the military, intelligence agencies and foreign embassies all will stay open.

Other agencies

In 2013, the U.S. Forest Service sent loggers and mill owners a cease-and-desist letter, telling them they had seven days to get out of the national forests. That would be a big problem for the loggers salvaging timber at the site of the Pioneer Fire in the Boise National Forest. Each day they can’t cut wood, more rots and loses value.

The Interior Department has made a special effort to keep access open to the nation’s national parks. But that won’t make much difference to visitors to Crater of the Moon National Monument and Preserve near Arco, Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument or Minidoka National Historic Site near Jerome.

Many of the workers at Craters live out at the site. About 10 percent will continue working — enough to keep the road to the residential area open, as well as water and sewer treatment facilities. The visitors center would be closed; access beyond it is closed anyway for the winter.

The other two monuments will be in similar shape.

In general, only limited functions would continue for other federal agencies. Those include work necessary to respond to emergencies and to protect human life or property.

The Bureau of Reclamation will operate its dams. In 2013, the National Interagency Fire Center kept on the staff it needed to oversee firefighting activity nationwide. Air traffic control operations across the country will not be affected.

Thousands of the private contractors who work at places such as Mountain Home Air Force Base and the Idaho National Laboratory faced furloughs in 2013 but made it through without losing their jobs.

Also, it might be harder to reach your members of Congress.

This could be real money

The federal workforce in Idaho accounts for about $800 million in annual income and creates — through what economists term a “multiplier effect” — another 38,000 jobs in other sectors statewide, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Idaho Falls and Bonneville County, where a quarter of the economy depends on INL.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker