US government readies for imminent shutdown

US government readies for imminent shutdown
US government readies for imminent shutdown

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - The US government began yesterday to inform workers of an impending shutdown that could see millions of federal employees and military personnel temporarily sent home or working without pay, unless Congress reaches a last-ditch deal. — AFP pic

WASHINGTON, Sept 29 — The US government began yesterday to inform workers of an impending shutdown that could see millions of federal employees and military personnel temporarily sent home or working without pay, unless Congress reaches a last-ditch deal.

Without an agreement, funding for much of the federal government will expire at midnight on Saturday (noon Malaysian time Sunday ), threatening disruptions to everything from air travel to benefit payments, and — if the shutdown endures — dealing a further blow to the precarious US economy.

The stand-off has been triggered by a small group of hardline Republicans who have pushed back against short-term funding deals while Congress tries to resolve a broader deadlock over calls for deep spending cuts.

Some federal employees have already been informed of preparations for a lapse, according to a notice seen by AFP.

A note to staff at the Department of Health and Human Services outlined how it would see “reduced staffing across nearly every division for the duration of the lapse” although many key programs will continue.

The department also updated its contingency plans, adding that “pre-notified employees would be temporarily furloughed,” meaning they are not allowed to work. They would receive retroactive pay after the lapse ends, the note said.

Staff at other agencies were understood to have received similar notifications.

In a shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed without pay, and members of the military and other employees who are deemed to be essential would continue working without a paycheck.

Certain benefits like Social Security checks would not be hit, but workers who go unpaid could eventually stop showing up, impacting sectors like air travel.

‘Dangerous’

“If there is a shutdown in just a few days, our service members would be required to continue working but would be doing so without pay, and hundreds and thousands of their civilian colleagues would be furloughed,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said today.

The Treasury Department added that among other implications, “most core tax administration functions will stop” and more than half of the Internal Revenue Service staff will be furloughed.

Apart from the possible lapse in funding, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) faces an added headache of a Saturday deadline for reauthorisation.

It remains unclear if lawmakers will pass an FAA reauthorisation law separately from a spending package.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Wednesday: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time.”

“The consequences would be disruptive and dangerous,” he added.

In Washington, a group of young climate activists of the Sunrise Movement entered Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office to protest against the looming shutdown.

The White House warned in a statement that a lapse would leave the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund underfunded, “delaying nearly 2,000 long-term recovery projects” across the country.

‘Avoidable risk’

With days left to pass legislation that would keep the government running, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said yesterday that his chamber is “pursuing bipartisanship”.

He accused House Speaker McCarthy of choosing to “elevate the whims and desires of a handful of hard-right extremists,” with “nothing to show for it”.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader, said shutting down the government is an “actively harmful proposition”.

In a full shutdown, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union estimates almost 1.8 million federal workers would go unpaid for the duration — although receiving backpay afterward.

A spokeswoman for the International Monetary Fund added in a briefing on Thursday: “We do see a shutdown as an avoidable risk for the US economy.” — AFP

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