ST. PAUL -- Federal employees are working without pay, farmers can’t borrow money to buy seed, Native American communities have limited access to health care — these are just a few of the ways the monthlong federal government shutdown is hurting Minnesotans.
The state is home to about 17,000 federal workers, and about 6,000 of those are either furloughed or working without pay. Hundreds of government programs also are not receiving money.
State funds can keep some services going for a short time, but it is unclear how long Minnesota can take up Washington’s slack. State leaders are only able to do so much, and the long list of shuttered federal programs are putting the squeeze on residents from every corner of the state.
Here’s a sampling:
Workers: 'No end in sight'
Airports need security and airplanes need air traffic controllers to land. But pilots also need up-to-date weather forecasts to fly.
“While people are able to get forecasts from any of our colleagues in the weather enterprise, we are the official voice of warnings and watches,” Schmit said.
The Weather Service typically uses the quieter times before the stormy spring to train newer meteorologists on when to issue those alerts. But that training now has to wait because it is not considered an essential activity, Schmit said.
Like many federal workers, missing a paycheck has been hard on Schmit and her coworkers, and the ongoing uncertainty is frustrating.
“I’ve been through several shutdowns in the past, but this is completely unprecedented due to how long it’s gone on and the fear there is no end in sight.”
Agriculture: Winter work delayed
Schwagerl is relatively new to farming and relies on the USDA’s Farm Service Agency for credit. When the agency is shut down she can’t access their line of credit to buy seed when pre-pay discounts are offered during the winter months.
The FSA also holds liens on any crop they sell, meaning checks can’t be cashed without federal approval.
Luckily, USDA was able to open some offices for a three-day window so farmers like Schwagerl could process some financial transactions. The longer the shutdown lasts, the tougher that is to do.
“It is not the end of the world right now,” Schwagerl said. “In a couple months if the government is shut down and it’s time to pay major bills, then I’m going to be really anxious.”
Native communities: 'Our communities are suffering'
Darian Ziegler, who is furloughed from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, says the lack of federal funding has been particularly challenging for Native American communities who rely on government services promised in various treaties.
“People are not receiving government rations like commodities, food stamps and other food subsidies,” Ziegler said. “Without these programs many are unaware of where their next meal will come from.”
Halting funding for food, housing and health care programs for Minnesota’s tribes is potentially life-threatening, Ziegler added.
“The people and our communities are suffering,” she said.
Moms, kids and seniors: 'Food can't wait'
Programs that low-income residents rely on for food, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), free and reduced-priced school lunches, and WIC, which helps Women, Infants and Children, are funded through the USDA.
Last week state leaders said food stamp benefits for February would be disbursed early, and it is unclear when benefits will be paid again. Tony Lourey, state Human Services Commissioner, said if the shutdown isn’t resolved Minnesota may need to step in around March 1 to cover the $44 million a month cost of the food stamp program.
“Food can’t wait,” Lourey said at a recent press conference with Gov. Tim Walz. The governor promised not to leave any Minnesotans behind.
About 400,000 Minnesotans receive SNAP benefits each month, and about 70 percent are children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
Cecilia Chapman of South Minneapolis, a disabled senior who relies on SNAP, said she doesn’t know how she will fill the void if benefits run out.
“Food is a basic necessity, that shouldn’t be a stretch,” said Chapman, who also relies on a local food shelf for help. “I don’t know where else to turn.”
Taxes: 'This is not the year to shorten (tax) season'
President Donald Trump’s administration recalled 46,000 workers at the IRS to begin processing tax returns when the federal tax season opens Jan. 28. Those workers are going without pay during the shutdown, but federal leaders say refunds shouldn’t be delayed.
Minnesota needs the IRS to open the tax season before it can begin accepting returns. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made big changes to the tax code, and Minnesotans’ returns will be more complicated this year because of it.
“This is not the year to shorten that season,” said Myron Frans, state Management and Budget commissioner. “To eat into our filing system time, this year of all years, would be difficult given the complexity and the changes made at the federal level.”
Frans added that while federal returns might be processed and refunds issued, it will be hard to get any questions answered from the IRS because most workers remain furloughed.
National parks: Volunteer groups set forward
Roads won’t be plowed, trash isn’t being picked up and pit toilets might be the only option, but the National Park Service says the U.S.’s majestic open spaces will be somewhat accessible during the shutdown.
“During the lapse of appropriations, the men and women of the National Park Service who have remained on duty have gone to incredible lengths to keep America’s iconic national parks as accessible as possible to the American public,” P. Daniel Smith, deputy director, National Park Service, said in a statement.
Volunteer groups, like the Voyageurs National Park Association, are helping to keep visitors safe by providing funding assistance to keep some services open, the park services noted. That includes grooming of some cross-country ski trails and keeping one snowmobile trail open near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center “assuring safe access and use by those seeking winter experience opportunities,” the park service said.