Civilian staff at bases could be furloughed
WASHINGTON – As the federal government hurtles toward a possible government shutdown beginning Tuesday, thousands of federal employees in New Mexico are bracing for the possibility of furloughs and lost paychecks.
Nationally, a shutdown could result in the immediate closure of about 400 national parks and monuments – 11 of them in New Mexico – thousands of unprocessed passport applications, suspension of most work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other cessation of services across the federal government.
The U.S. Senate voted Friday to approve a so-called continuing resolution that would keep the government operating until Nov. 15, but it is unclear whether the Republican-controlled House will approve the measure in a vote expected today.
Without House approval of the Senate bill, or some other eleventh-hour compromise, all but essential federal government operations will cease at midnight Monday.
“A government shutdown would be incredibly destructive to New Mexico,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. “It also would come when the state badly needs federal assistance to recover from the (recent rain) storms. I’m doing everything I can to prevent this.”
Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., both voted Friday for the resolution to continue keep government open.
“A government shutdown would ripple throughout the entire economy, shake consumer confidence, delay critical services for seniors and veterans, and hurt hardworking middle-class families in New Mexico,” Heinrich said after the vote. “I urge House Republicans to be responsible and work with Democrats to get this bill passed, and to send it immediately to the president.” In the event of a shutdown, Social Security and Medicare benefits would still be available, and the Postal Service would still deliver mail because its operating budget is paid through revenues.
The shutdown could affect paychecks for about 2,100 Pentagon-funded civilian employees at Kirtland Air Force Base, and about 4,000 other workers at New Mexico military installations.
Civilian employees at other military installations could also feel the pinch.
White Sands Missile Range employs about 2,450 civilian personnel, said public affairs chief Monte Marlin, though not all of them work for the Defense Department.
Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo has 840 civilian workers facing potential furloughs, officials said. Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis the base employs about 630 civilians, a spokesman said.
Employees at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, two of New Mexico’s largest federal employers, are expected to stay on the job – at least in the short-term.
The labs have sufficient money on hand to continue operating for another month “without significant disruption to the workforce,” even if the federal government shuts down, said Jennifer Talhelm, spokeswoman for Udall.
“In the event of a shutdown, Sandia will continue to operate in the short term by using unspent, prior-year carryover,” Sandia President Paul J. Hommer said in a memo to lab employees obtained by the Journal . “Therefore, all members of the workforce should report to work as normal – and in the days that follow – unless notified otherwise.”
Los Alamos management circulated a similar memo to staff on Thursday.
A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, said top state officials are coordinating plans to maintain basic services in the event of a shutdown.
“There are, of course, potential impacts to funding for programs like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and others, but states tend to have balances in reserves that could be used for a period of time to continue services in many of these programs,” said Enrique Knell.
For Albuquerque, a federal government shutdown could be “hard-hitting,” said Dayna Gardner, a spokeswoman for Mayor Richard Berry.
“City services that could be affected include the airport, before- and after school programs, community development grants, senior meal monies, HUD vouchers among others,” she said. “The dollars for these programs could have to be found elsewhere, potentially from the taxpayers of Albuquerque until the federal government gets back on track.”
Military service members would stay on the job, but they would not be paid during a shutdown, Undersecretary of Defense Robert F. Hale told reporters at a briefing in Washington on Friday.
Paychecks for service through Sept. 30 would be issued, but if the shutdown dragged on, military personnel would not get paid on Oct. 15, Hale said.
The military would also halt other payments, such as death benefits to armed services family members, he said. Hale said reservists may not get paid, depending on when they work or how long the shutdown lasts.
“Reserves are trickier, because they are paid at various terms, but I’m hoping we can avoid or minimize disruptions there,” Hale said.
Lost pay that results from a shutdown could only be recovered by a special congressional appropriation.