The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

States start to feel shutdown pinch

Protesters seeking continued funding for the Washington, D.C., government gather in front of the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 9 as Democratic senators hold an event on the steps of the U.S. Senate. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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On Capitol Hill, the stalemate over funding the government shows no signs of untangling itself as House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama continue to address each other more through the media than anywhere else. But outside the Beltway, the practical fallout from the fact that federal dollars aren’t flowing from Washington to the states is finally sinking in.

Within weeks, food stamp programs will run out of money. Programs for low-income women, infants and children will shutter. Phone calls to rape crisis centers will go unanswered. Even licenses for new craft breweries are on hold until the government reopens.

Several states are considering tapping special reserve funds to make up for the lost federal money. Some states will be hindered by budget rules which require supermajorities in the legislature to spend money out of their rainy-day funds.

“States face a lot of different kinds of uncertainty,” said Robert Zahradnik, director of state policy at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “What’s happening at the federal level has become one more type of uncertainty that states have to plan for.”

At least two states that rely heavily on the federal government for tax revenue addressed that hurdle after the last big Washington standoff, over the debt ceiling in 2011, according to a Pew report. Virginia established a special trust fund to give assistance to communities that would be hit by a government shutdown, like military bases. In Maryland, a new fund created in 2011 is filling gaps left by a shutdown that’s costing the state an estimated $5 million a day.

North Carolina announced Tuesday that it had suspended a program that provided food stamps to low-income women with infants and young children. Most of the 264,000 enrollees have received their benefits for this month, the Raleigh News & Observer reported, but the 20 percent who haven’t — about 50,000 people — are out of luck. In Arkansas, 2,000 newborns won’t receive infant formula that was supposed to be funded by federal dollars.

The end of funding for the Women, Infants and Children Program means 425,000 Nevadans enrolled in the program won’t get benefits if the government is still shut next month. Another 362,000 Silver State residents enrolled in food stamp programs would see their benefits cut. Keeping both programs open would cost Nevada $50 million per month — money Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) says the state just doesn’t have.

“Particularly at the end of the month, I think that’s really when we are going to start to see … some catastrophic issues going on for the state,” Sandoval told the Las Vegas Sun.

Across the nation, state-funded rape crisis centers that receive money through the Violence Against Women Act began closing over the weekend, as Justice Department offices ran out of money and sent furloughed employees packing. Many of the 2,000 shelters that rely on VAWA and the Family Violence Prevention Services Act rely on federal funding that has been cut off.

Two tourists were issued citations for $275 each when they slipped under a gate to hike in Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas. “Obviously we were bad, bad old ladies with our visors and our water bottles,” Gina Borchers told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Nine citations have been issued to trespassers in Grand Teton National Park, while officials in San Juan County, Utah, are considering taking over several national parks, including Lake Powell and part of Canyonlands National Park.

Federal furloughs also mean some of the more obscure functions of government are grinding to a halt. The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for approving sales of private aircraft and certifying pilots and planes; those employees were deemed non-essential, meaning sales of private aircraft have ground to a halt. And new craft beer makers, who must get the approval of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to open new breweries and market new recipes, won’t be able to act; the bureau is closed until the shutdown is resolved.