“This is serious,” Fuller said. “The national economy may not notice a shutdown much unless it lasts three or four weeks. But for the Washington area, this is a tsunami.”
In addition to the economic impact, area residents could also see cuts in federal services: no new applications for benefits such as Medicare, Social Security and child-care subsidies, no new housing or small-business loans, no new clinical trials for research funded by the National Institutes of Health and a murky prognosis for the safety net for those most in need.
Child-care centers in federal agencies would close, parents said, and child-care workers, who are not employed by the federal government, likewise would be sent home.
Mail will continue to be delivered, as the U.S. Postal Service is an independent agency. Amtrak officials have said trains will continue to run.
And while the District is the only jurisdiction that could have basic services — such as trash pickup and libraries — halted, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is attempting to avoid that by declaring every city employee essential, a distinction that could keep them working through a federal shutdown.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has been pushing a bill in Congress to exempt the city from a potential shutdown, as it did in 1995, when a federal shutdown had what Norton called a “disastrous” impact on the District.
“It was horrific,” Norton said. “In a shutdown, the garbage does not get picked up, no matter what, for a week. Then you can declare a health emergency.”
‘We’re really bleeding’
The possible shutdown comes at a time when the region’s economy is weak, said Fuller, the economist. The across-the-board sequestration cuts earlier this year cost the region 26,500 net jobs in August, Fuller said. With furloughs and agencies not filling positions, the $42 billion annual federal payroll is down $2 billion from last year, and federal contracting is down $5 billion.
“We’re really bleeding,” Fuller said. “A shutdown will have real costs.”
Fuller, who made his calculations over the weekend thinking that a shutdown would be inevitable, projected that 60 percent of the area’s 377,000 federal workers would be deemed “nonessential” and would stay home.
Likewise, he projected that the shutdown would affect about 20 percent of the government’s contractors, who receive about $75 billion a year from the federal government. And each person furloughed means less money spent at local businesses or vendors, he said.