10 ways the government shutdown sucks for Minnesota

Can we pick up the pace a little? We have stuff to do.

Can we pick up the pace a little? We have stuff to do. AP

To say that there are winners in the face of the ongoing federal government shutdown is kind of like talking about how lucky that dude with all the tinned sausages is after civilization has fallen.

Nonetheless, a new national study has ranked Minnesota the state least affected by the standoff in Washington.

Why is that exactly? Minnesota has the nation’s third-lowest share of federal jobs (a little over 1 percent) and the sixth-lowest federal contract dollars per capita (just under $600). Not as many of us are depending on the federal government to get paid.

We also have a relatively low number of households receiving help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (just around 8 percent, which puts us at no. 47 in the nation), and our economy is not as reliant on real estate, which can be disrupted when federal staff aren’t immediately available.

That’s all well and good, says Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans. In fact, if this shutdown had only lasted two weeks, this would be considered little more than an “inconvenience” for our state. But now we’re rapidly approaching the point -- Saturday -- when this could become the longest shutdown we’ve ever seen, and that’s going to change things.

“Now we’re entering a whole new world,” he says. “We are really frustrated by this lack of federal government fulfilling their responsibilities.”

The past few days, Frans has been consulting with Gov. Tim Walz and a strategic planning committee on how to batten the hatches until the feds open up shop again, and there are quite a few Minnesota institutions that are on their list of concerns. Until recently, SNAP was at the top, but thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture, those payments are all set until February.

Here are other ways the shutdown is going to -- and has already -- hit our state:

1. Duluth continues to wait on $9 million in flood repairs.
After a devastating storm hit St. Louis County in October, Duluth has been waiting for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to clean up damage to the area’s shoreline, roads, and rail lines. (Twenty-foot waves will do that.) Until the government’s back up and running, no one can approve the request, and reconstruction can’t begin.

2. Your Federal Housing Association loan is still pending.
Until the government comes back, plenty of people can’t close on houses, which hurts both would-be homeowners and our real estate market.

3. Businesses are running in the dark.
The Department of Commerce is the “preeminent producer of public data,” and regularly puts out up-to-date reports on the economy, population, and the environment that allow businesses to make investment plans for the future and help governments shape fiscal policy. Or, it did, before the shutdown. Until this service is back, plenty of businesses aren’t going to have the data they need to plan ahead.

4. Don’t even ask about the airport.
It’s bad enough TSA workers aren’t getting paid, and passengers are feeling the burn in line, but airports can’t even formally certify new aircrafts until the government is up and running again. It’s getting to the point, Frans says, where people are reconsidering travel, and that general uncertainty hurts the economy.

5. We’ve got justice problems.
Minnesota’s courts employ 223 “essential” staff members, who are now working without pay to keep district courts running during the shutdown. Criminal cases get priority, so at least 14 civil cases in the state have been stayed by the request of Department of Justice lawyers, according to the Star Tribune. On top of that, immigration court is at a virtual standstill (we have 8,000 cases pending in our state), which means families and refugees who have been waiting years for their day in court and the final word on their immigration status are living in limbo.

6. People are going to go without health care.
The Indian Health Service, which provides health care services to tribal organizations all over the country, is totally unfunded and is having to rely on tribal reserves and loans. The longer the shutdown continues, the more likely it is that it won’t be able to make up the shortfall and will have to cut back on public health services offered at its hospitals and clinics.

7. It’s a bad few weeks for national parks.
Ever tried to run an entire national park with just two or three people? Because that’s what Voyageurs National Park in International Falls, a 218,000-acre expanse of land, is doing. Right now. If it weren’t for a $5,000 grant donated to the park by the Voyageurs National Park Association, the visitor center would be shuttered.

8. Good luck farming.
Sorry, rural Minnesota, the federal Farm Service Agency isn’t signing off on any loans or doing any paperwork these days, which means there are farmers literally waiting on the one paycheck they get a year until the government gets back to work.

9. None of these transactions go away when the government revs up again.
All we’re doing right now is stacking up a big to-do list for when the government gets up and running again, which means we can expect major delays in anything involving a federal office in the weeks and months to come.

10. Last, but certainly not least, we still have people who rely on the federal government to get paid.
However well off we are compared to the rest of the country, we still have thousands of federal employees facing lost paychecks. And, Frans says, “there’s not much we can do to help them.”