What A Partial Federal Government Shutdown Might Mean For Massachusetts

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The sun casts a shadow over the Capitol on Friday as a bitterly-divided Congress hurtles toward a government shutdown this weekend. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
The sun casts a shadow over the Capitol on Friday as a bitterly-divided Congress hurtles toward a government shutdown this weekend. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Up against a midnight deadline, lawmakers in Washington continued negotiations Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown. Unless Democrats, Republicans, and President Trump can work out a last-minute deal, big pieces of the federal bureaucracy will cease to function.

So what does that mean for Massachusetts residents?

Well, the big, essential federal jobs — like air traffic control, payment of social security benefits and military preparedness — will go on as normal. And according to Evan Horowitz, who writes about data and public policy for The Boston Globe, a shutdown would be largely unnoticed by most people in the state.

"Here in Massachusetts, you shouldn't expect major disruptions," Horowitz said. "It's going to play out as a big, symbolic battle — but not with huge economic implications. It's different in D.C., where the number of federal employees is high."

There are hundreds of thousands of federal workers in the Washington, D.C. area, and the last time there was a government shutdown — in 2013 — 800,000 of those workers were furloughed.

In Massachusetts, there are just 46,000 people working for various federal agencies like the IRS, the EPA and the social security administration. So relatively few people here would be directly affected.

"Here in Massachusetts, you shouldn't expect major disruptions. It's going to play out as a big, symbolic battle -- but not with huge economic implications."

Evan Horowitz, Globe reporter

But, Horowitz added the partial shutdown could affect lots of routine interactions with the federal government.

"Are you going to get your passport renewed? Then, you're in trouble. Are you trying to sign up for a government program for the first time? Then, you're in trouble," he explained. "Do you want to enroll in social security, or get a federal grant? Then, you're in trouble."

A number of federal properties would be closed — from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, to the Springfield Armory National Historic site. The last time the federal government shut down, national parks, including the Cape Cod National Seashore closed, but this time, the Department of Interior says national parks would remain open. The U.S. Postal Service would also continue to function.

Gov. Charlie Baker is hopeful that if there is a shutdown, it won't last long.

"If this is a short shutdown, I don't believe there will be much disruption of any kind," Baker said. "Programs are going to continue, stuff will go on."

But if a shutdown were to last weeks, previously approved federal funds could run out and affect housing subsidies, refugee assistance and other federal benefits for state residents. So state budget officials are preparing contingency plans, just in case.


Outside the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in downtown Boston on Friday, federal employees came and went. Some expressed frustration that they could soon be temporarily out of a job. Most of them said they weren't allowed to talk reporters. This man identified himself as Jeff, a government contractor from Winthrop.

"I was furloughed once in 1995, and I think the first time it happens you're surprised, but it appears to be part of the process," said a government contractor from Winthrop who identified himself as Jeff. "It shouldn't be part of the process, but it is, so you have to accept it."

David Boyd, a National Service Officer with the Disabled American Veterans, said he was also frustrated by the political impasse in Washington. Boyd expressed concern that a government shutdown could hurt his fellow vets.

"Their health care could be reduced. For students, any educational assistance could be reduced and cut off. That could get their living stipend cut off, so then they don't have money to pay the rent," Boyd said. "I think it's just more political back and forth that happens all the time where someone else gets hurt, not the people in D.C."

One group of people who would not be affected by the government shutdown? Members of Congress would continue to collect their paychecks.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on January 19, 2018.

This segment aired on January 19, 2018.


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Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



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