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Utah Is Buckling In For A Long Federal Shutdown

Photo of federal building.
Nicole Nixon / KUER
As the shutdown enters its fourth week, the State of Utah is looking at how it will keep federal programs running when funds dry up at the end of February.

As the record-breaking government shutdown continues into its fourth week, state budget managers are preparing for portions of the federal government to remain closed for weeks or even months more. That could leave the state to pick up the tab for programs like nutritional assistance and unemployment claims from furloughed federal workers.

“We’re starting to go into longer planning mode because we don’t know if this will end soon or not,” said Kristen Cox, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

Since the shutdown began on Dec. 21, the state has spent about $66,000 to keep some areas and services at Utah’s five National Parks open. Private funds are also helping to keep visitor services open at Zion, Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce Canyon national parks.

But that can only go so far. With most of the state-authorized $80,000 for National Parks services already spent, the parks will likely have to close at some point if the shutdown drags on, Cox said.

“It’s a skeleton crew” at the parks, she said.

“If the federal government cannot manage the parks, then maybe the state should.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that food assistance programs, including food stamps under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and school meals for low-income children will be funded through the end of February.

The federal program for women, infants and children (WIC) is also funded through February.

But if the shutdown extends into March, the state of Utah would have to look at dipping into rainy-day funds to keep some federal programs going, Cox said.

“We can keep some programs open, some services going. We would have to prioritize and determine how long,” she said, adding that the state is “not in a position to just backfill all of the federal programs in perpetuity.”

While the governor and legislative leaders haven’t agreed which programs to fund first if the shutdown continues, Cox said vulnerable populations would be at the top of that list.

On Saturday the current shutdown broke the record for the longest federal shutdown, previously set during a 21-day shutdown in Dec. 1995-Jan. 1996 under the Clinton administration.

“Before, we were hoping a week or two, but we’re going to be making plans for a few months out just to see how far in the future we can sustain,” Cox said.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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