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Federal Government Shutdown to Keep Texas Workers Home

Thousands of “nonessential” Texas federal employees will be off the job until Congress passes legislation to turn the government’s lights back on. Texas has the nation's third-highest concentration of federal employees.

Sirvesta Thomas, right, and his wife, Tina Thomas, at CityWalk at Akard, an affordable housing project in downtown Dallas, on April 25, 2012.

WASHINGTON — Thousands of “nonessential” Texas federal employees will be off the job until Congress passes legislation to turn the government’s lights back on.

Texas has the nation's third-highest concentration of federal employees, according to the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Politics Project, and many of those 140,000 workers will go without a paycheck. 

Late into Monday night, congressional leaders wrangled over whether to include defunding of the Affordable Care Act, due to begin enrollment Tuesday, in a federal government funding resolution but failed to compromise before time ran out. The most recent government shutdown, in late 1995 and early 1996, lasted several weeks. 

In a press release Monday, Gov. Rick Perry chastised the Obama administration for what he called a "my-way-or-the-highway mentality" that he said "jeopardizes essential functions of not only the federal government but also state services."

NASA, headquartered in Houston, is slated to close, with 97 percent of its employees at home. The Department of Homeland Security will temporarily halt its E-Verify program, preventing business owners from checking the immigration status of prospective employees. Border Patrol agents will remain on the job, but their paychecks will most likely be delayed. The Department of Energy will run on a third of its staff, with employees working on nuclear materials and power grids still on the clock.

Military personnel would have been paid by IOUs following a shutdown, but a last-minute bill signed by the president two hours before the deadline Monday night extended military salaries into fiscal year 2014. 

While federal employees will feel the initial pinch, state agencies reliant on federal funding are scrambling to cover budget holes to carry them through the shutdown. The stalemate will be “catastrophic” if it lasts longer than a few weeks, said Tory Gunsolley, president of the Houston Housing Authority, which distributes housing vouchers to low-income families. October payments for the Housing Choice Voucher Program are already promised by Washington, but November’s are not.

“There simply isn’t enough money to be able to make good on our obligations without the federal government because there is not another source of money,” Gunsolley said. The Houston Housing Authority provides rental assistance for 60,000 people, costing about $10 million per month.

With the Department of Housing and Urban Development on furlough, projects awaiting federal approval could run out of time. “HUD’s clock may have stopped, but that doesn’t mean there is more time for us,” Gunsolley said. “If they are not able to catch up in time, it could put our deals in jeopardy.”  

The Women, Infants and Children Program, which supports low-income mothers and children, will continue uninterrupted for now, said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. The program disburses $750 million per year to nearly 950,000 women and children in the state. However, in other states, WIC will run out of funding in the next few days. 

“We’ll use WIC rebate dollars to fund services for the time being,” Williams said. “But of course, if it stretches out for a while, we could have cash flow issues in the coming weeks.” 

Nationally, visas and passports will go unprocessed, as will gun permits. The Environmental Protection Agency will effectively be closed, with 94 percent of its employees, including regulators, furloughed. National parks and zoos are to be closed.  

The Medill News Service is a content partner of The Texas Tribune and is providing reports from Washington, D.C.

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