Walz preps state strategy to counter shutdown effects

Gov. Tim Walz plans to outline a short-term state response Tuesday to a partial government shutdown now in its fourth week.

“This is serious,” Walz said Monday at a Capitol briefing, referring to federal dollars that have been tied up and other fallout from the impasse in Washington.

Walz budget chief Myron Frans separately fielded questions from a House committee about the shutdown’s effect on the state.

Frans said state government officials are assessing the status of state workers whose paychecks are covered at least in part by shuttered areas of the federal government.

He said 3,000 state employees are compensated through federal grants for all or part of their work. It wasn’t clear how many work for programs without current funding; about 25 percent of the federal government is closed or operating at reduced levels during the dispute between Congress and President Donald Trump.

Frans said if Minnesota decided to lay off state workers doing federal tasks it would have to give at least three weeks notice.

“We need to assess at what point should we send notices to those employees if in fact we’re not convinced that the federal government is going to make good on those payments or reimburse us if we continue to fund those workers,” Frans told the House Ways and Means Committee.

He said that each month about $1 billion flows from Washington into Minnesota. Not all of that is tied up in the shutdown; officials were working to pin down precisely how much is at stake.

But to keep some affected services intact, Frans said the state has been absorbing federal costs where it can. He said there’s growing nervousness that states won’t get reimbursed once the federal government reopens.

“Where do we step in as a state and help out and help ameliorate the effects of the shutdown when it’s the right thing to do and people are suffering? When do we do that?” Frans asked rhetorically. “At what point do we say as a state that we can’t afford and the price tag is getting too high? How do we ensure that we have the legal right to get that reimbursement.”

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, urged his colleagues to do what they can to minimize disruptions.

“One of my big hopes is we don’t slip into a partisan approach to that. This is about the delivery of Minnesota services to Minnesotans,” Mariani said. “To my colleagues across the aisle, there is much we can lock arms here just to make sure we’re answering together some of the big questions.”

Meanwhile, state, local and tribal social services offices in Minnesota are rushing to process food assistance applications to guarantee the benefits will be available.

The federal agency that administers those programs says that despite a partial shutdown it will pay for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through February. But that promise is extended only for people enrolled by the end of this week.

Nikki Farago, who helps oversee the programs at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said the Jan. 20 federal deadline has set off a scramble to confirm applicant eligibility by early this week. She said the goal is to have all the proper checkoffs done by Tuesday.

“We know anecdotally that several offices were working throughout the weekend and are working today and through close of business tomorrow to make sure all of those applications are processed,” Farago said.

Farago said low-income people will still have the ability to apply for food stamps and other assistance later in the month, but they won’t be assured payments.

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