With the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history showing no end in sight, states are keeping an eye on how their programs may be impacted.
Iowa’s leaders insist state programs are not in immediate danger, but they are monitoring the activity --- or lack thereof --- in Washington, D.C.
States rely on federal funding for programs like food assistance for low-income people, and mothers and infant children, among others.
A prolonged shutdown could impact federal payments to Iowa farmers or curtail food inspections.
Federal lawmakers and President Donald Trump are at an impasse over whether to include an additional $5 billion in the federal budget for a security wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said her administration has processes in place to monitor and react to a federal government shutdown, drawn on experience with previous shutdowns. The plan is overseen by state Department of Management Director David Roederer, and Reynolds' staff remains in contact with its legislative liaison in Washington, D.C., for constant updates.
“This isn’t the first government shutdown that we’ve experienced. (Roederer) is very familiar with the processes that we have in place,” Reynolds said. “He reaches out almost every day with the various agencies that are impacted to see where we’re at, what they think, how long they think they’re going to be able to provide especially the essential services. So we continue to monitor that on a daily basis, and we’ll make sure that we can find a way to provide the essential services that Iowans are counting on.”
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, the Republican from Ankeny, agreed.
“We continue to monitor what’s going on with the federal government and watch for possible implications,” Whitver said. “But none of those has arisen to the point where there’s any action ready to be taken.”
Myriad issues could arise because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of the areas not being funded during the shutdown. The food assistance program known as SNAP, or food stamps, for example, is funded by the federal ag department, as is WIC, which helps provide food and other necessities for mothers and their infant children.
The department sent states enough funding to get those programs through February. But low-income Americans will lose access to those programs if the shutdown lasts longer --- Trump, a Republican, has threatened to keep the shutdown going for months or even years if Democrats do not agree to the border wall funding.
More than 333,000 Iowans received SNAP benefits in September, the most recent month for which federal data is available.
“I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t assure Iowans that we’ll make sure that they can put food on the table if things in D.C. are still going horribly wrong. Iowans deserve to know that they’ll be able to feed their families,” said Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, the Democratic from Des Moines.
Iowa farmers counting on federal assistance offered to offset financial losses from federal trade negotiations may find themselves in limbo as well.
The Trump administration has been renegotiating multiple international trade deals with some of the country’s biggest trading partners, including Canada, Mexico and China. Those negotiations have contributed to falling crop prices. To help offset that financial hit, the administration announced it would make support payments to impacted farmers.
But with the federal ag department temporarily shuttered, those payments are in danger.
The department recently extended the deadline to apply for payments beyond the previous deadline, which was Tuesday. The deadline will be extended for an amount of time equal to however long the department remains closed, ag secretary Sonny Perdue said.
“They’re working on what they need to do to address the issues,” Reynolds said.
Iowa’s state leaders implored federal representatives to work past their disagreements to end the shutdown. State leaders from both major political parties said federal representatives can look to Iowa as a model of how bipartisan work can be accomplished.
“Washington, D.C., probably needs to take a lesson from Iowa on how to actually serve its citizens in getting things done,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, the Republican from Clear Lake. “Elections are over. It’s time to get to work. ... We need people to get busy and solve their problems, find solutions, compromise and get this job done.”
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, the Democratic from Charles City, said Iowa’s law requiring a balanced state budget also helps avoid issues like the shutdown.
The state budget is better prepared than most to handle a recession, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“I think the situation in D.C. shows the importance of Iowa having sound budgeting principles and practices, and being in a position to where we can deal with the unexpected, whether it’s a federal shutdown or whether it’s a sudden downturn in the economy,” Prichard said.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, introduced legislation this week that would prevent future federal government shutdowns. His proposal would keep federal agencies funded at their current levels whenever budget negotiations stall beyond key spending deadlines.
“It costs money to shut down the government and it costs more money to reopen it. When the government shuts down, Americans are deprived of essential services and their tax dollars are needlessly wasted. Shutdowns also erode the trust between citizens and their government,” Grassley said in a statement. “This legislation would help ensure that policy stalemates and political interests would no longer get in the way of government’s duty to serve the American people. It would also create additional certainty and confidence in the government’s ability to function on behalf of the citizens it serves.”