Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Sept. 26. It has been lightly updated to reflect the upcoming government funding deadline.
WASHINGTON — A possible federal government shutdown is less than a week away, and it remains unclear if Congress will coalesce around a plan to avert it. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Washington was in the same same position just weeks ago.
House Republicans spent the most of the intervening time fighting internally. First, they ousted their speaker, California Representative Kevin McCarthy, for passing a clean funding extension in September. Then, they repeatedly tried and failed to choose a replacement until October 25, when they finally elected Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana.
McCarthy’s successor, while more popular with the right wing than McCarthy, faces the same politics. Several conservative members have rejected Johnson’s plan to temporarily extend government funding to avoid a shutdown on November 17. Johnson, like his predecessor, will have to compromise to get the Democratic votes necessary for a funding extension to pass the Senate and get signed by President Biden.
Absent a fix, come Saturday, people around the country — including in New England — could be left grappling with what it means for them and their families.
A monthlong shutdown that started in late 2018 cost the nation’s economy an estimated $11 billion, an indication of the possible stakes if Congress does not pass a continuation of federal funding by Friday night.
Still, the full effects of a shutdown are difficult to estimate in advance. The length of any eventual shutdown is a significant factor, as is the scope. In 2018, for example, Congress had already funded some of the government, limiting the number of agencies affected, but the record-setting length presented significant hardship for affected federal employees and programs.
As the deadline approaches, here are some of the ways New England could be affected by a shutdown.
More than 60,000 federal employees work in New England, and they could be facing halted paychecks during a shutdown. While all civil servants will eventually get backpay after a shutdown thanks to a 2019 law signed by former president Donald Trump during the last shutdown, federal employees will not receive paychecks until Congress passes funding. The way the calendar falls, the first missed paycheck would not be until early December if government shuts down Saturday.
During that time, some employees deemed essential — like air traffic controllers or law enforcement — will still have to report for work without pay. But many hundreds of thousands of employees across the country could be furloughed as they wait out the shutdown.
As the 2018 shutdown stretched into 2019, a food pantry opened on the US Coast Guard base in Boston to support the unpaid workers, an example of how extended shutdowns can strain working families in the area.
Massachusetts has the largest number of civilian federal employees in the region, with roughly 24,500, according to Office of Personnel Management data. Maine is home to nearly 12,000 federal employees, Connecticut and Rhode Island to roughly 8,000 each, New Hampshire to nearly 4,700, and Vermont to roughly 3,200. The top government employer in all states is either the Department of Veterans Affairs, or one of the military branches.
This shutdown could also cost active-duty troops their paychecks. According to the White House, there are 6,200 troops at risk of missing pay in Connecticut, 700 in Maine, 3,300 in Massachusetts, 1,100 in New Hampshire, 3,700 in Rhode Island, and 100 in Vermont.
A number of government programs could run dry during an extended shutdown, jeopardizing safety nets and important services.
In September, the White House highlighted the risks to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC. Though there are contingency funds, those could be spent in a matter of days, jeopardizing the program that helps support the nutrition and food needs of low-income pregnant or breastfeeding women and infants and children up to 5 years old.
Nearly 126,000 Massachusetts residents receive WIC, more than 100,000 of which are children and infants. Connecticut has more than 47,000 WIC recipients, of which roughly 37,000 are children and infants. Maine and Rhode Island each have roughly 18,000 residents in the program, including roughly 14,000 children and infants in each state. Roughly 13,500 New Hampshire residents are WIC recipients, including 11,000 children and infants, and Vermont has almost 11,000 residents in WIC, including almost 9,000 children and infants.
Disruptions for those who are in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, will not happen right away. Those in the program will receive their benefits for this month and December regardless, but if a shutdown is not resolved before January, recipients could lose their coverage. In Massachusetts alone, more than 1 million people, or one in seven residents of the state, received some benefits in 2022.
Other programs, such as housing support, Head Start in schools, and federal student loans, could suffer disruptions depending on the length and nature of a shutdown. Americans may also find it difficult to get support services or responses from agencies they’re used to, such as career counseling for veterans.
Some safety net programs, though, will be largely unaffected. Social Security, veterans benefits, and Medicare, for example, will continue to function and send out checks regardless of a shutdown.
“A shutdown means over 20,000 people in this state suddenly not getting a paycheck,” said Worcester Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat. “That means they can’t pay rent or buy food. That’s a disaster for local economies. And within just a few days, over 125,000 moms, children, and infants would be turned away from the grocery counter. … Republicans are literally willing to shut down the government and take food out of the mouths of hungry infants in order to make a political point.”
The economic impact of a shutdown can be wide-reaching and hard to gauge, as the effects of missed paychecks, shuttered facilities, and halted programs can reverberate through a community.
National Parks have closed during past shutdowns, costing jobs and straining local economies who rely on the tourist traffic. The National Park Service estimated that Acadia National Park in Maine, for example, contributed nearly $500 million to the local economy last year. Tourism to the National Seashore in Cape Cod supported more than 6,600 jobs and contributed $750 million, the service said.
The White House is warning air travel could suffer, as employees ordered to work without pay during past shutdowns have called out sick or sought other jobs, leading to staffing shortages.
Past shutdowns have disrupted scientific research, a major industry in Massachusetts, and have halted permitting for infrastructure projects. A shutdown could halt or delay small business loans and government contracts, imperiling local businesses.
While some money could be recouped, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that in the 2018-2019 shutdown, $3 billion was lost forever.
At a roundtable event in September, organized by New Hampshire Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire nonprofit leaders warned a shutdown could imperil services for vulnerable residents and risk layoffs at the same time that the shutdown would increase the need.
Borja Alvarez de Toledo, the CEO and president of Waypoint in New Hampshire, said his nonprofit, which serves vulnerable children, receives 50 percent of its budget from federal funds. He called the potential impacts of a shutdown “really scary.”
Globe staff writers Jim Puzzanghera, Alexa Gagosz and Amanda Gokee contributed to this report.