“It is imperative that you reopen the government now and, then, reach across the aisle to find a solution that will end the current impasse,” said the letter, signed by the National Governors Association chair and vice chair, Govs. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.) and Larry Hogan (R-Md.), on behalf of the group, which represents the 55 governors of U.S. states and territories. “Governors stand united in telling the federal government to open the doors of currently shuttered agencies while you find a long-term, bipartisan compromise on the issues that currently divide Washington.”
The letter, dated Monday, was released by the National Governors Association on Tuesday morning, as Trump prepared to address the nation from the Oval Office about the impasse over his demand for border wall funding that has led to a partial government shutdown, now in its third week.
The approach outlined in the letter echoes that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has said Congress should reopen government agencies before negotiating over Trump’s plans for a border wall, which she has repeatedly called “immoral.” Trump aides have argued that the issue of border security should be resolved at the same time as other funding issues.
The National Governors Association letter called the shutdown “a failure in governance and a weight on our economy and the American people.”
“This partial government shutdown affects nine federal departments and dozens of smaller agencies, all of which our states do business with daily,” the governors wrote. “Approximately 800,000 federal employees in our states are working without pay or furloughed — impacting their ability to provide for their families, jeopardizing their credit, and potentially siphoning dollars from state economies.”
The letter cited other ill effects of the shutdown, including national parks overflowing with trash, the cessation of federal loans for rural development, reduced Coast Guard capabilities and the forced furloughing of employees that serve Native American tribal governments.
The states are concerned about the shutdown’s effect on a variety of programs they operate jointly with the federal government, in particular the federal welfare program known as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), a $16.5 billion block grant program that funds cash assistance, job training and other services for low-income families.
Congress failed to reauthorize the program before the Dec. 21 shutdown, and for now states are using any money left over from last year to cover the missing federal funds. But such funds are expected to run out soon, at different times for different states.
“At what point is the federal contribution going to run out?” James Nash, National Governors Association spokesman said in an interview. “States cannot get a lot of clarity on this.”
The group has calculated that the shutdown has halted $85.8 billion in federal money to the states under grants and programs that cover transportation, housing, the judicial system, public lands and agriculture.
The association said Monday that it has been reaching out to the White House on behalf of the states, in particular to find out the administration’s plans for the TANF program, but it has been unable to get answers.
“We can’t reach the officials in the agencies, because they’re furloughed,” Nash said. “It’s been hard for the states to get answers.”
Other issues with cascading effects on the states are the federal court system and the Internal Revenue Service.
With the U.S. judiciary announcing Friday that it will keep federal courts open one more week than expected, until Jan. 18, but suspend all civil cases after that, state courts may need to absorb some civil cases in the federal system, Nash said.
And any delays to IRS tax refunds — which will begin to be processed this week after a more than two-week hiatus — will have a ripple effect on state tax agencies as well, delaying their returns.