Chicago, IL

Federal Shutdown Looms, Threatening Chicago and Illinois

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

If Federal Government Shuts Down, Chicago and Illinois Would be Significantly Impacted

As the nation approaches another potential federal government shutdown, the implications for Chicago and Illinois are significant. A failure to reach a budget agreement could force furloughs for thousands of federal employees in the state and cause disruptions in essential services.

While Medicare and Social Security checks will continue to be sent out, other programs will face challenges the longer a shutdown persists, especially those related to disability claims. Federal agencies would halt all nonessential work, impacting various sectors.

As of March 2023, there are 42,637 federal employees in Illinois, including federal law enforcement and 22,600 active-duty military members. In the event of a shutdown, active-duty service members and some law enforcement officers would continue to work but without pay until funds are allocated.

Federal employees at institutions like the Great Lakes Naval Base in Lake County would face financial hardships, including Petty Officer Second Class Madison Williams, 29, who expressed concerns about paying for essentials like rent and groceries during a shutdown.

“That’s how we pay our rent. That’s how we pay for groceries. A lot of people that don’t have savings ... we have to dive into our credit cards.”

However, "excepted" federal employees, including those involved in emergency work, would not be furloughed, ensuring continuity in critical services.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspections at hazardous waste sites, drinking water facilities, and chemical plants would cease during a shutdown. Additionally, approximately 10,000 children across the nation would lose slots for the Head Start program, impacting early childhood development, including those in Illinois.

The potential shutdown comes amid political battles, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy facing challenges from far-right House members who seek significant spending cuts. In contrast, the Senate reached an agreement on an appropriations plan to fund the government at higher levels, with allocations for Ukraine and emergency disaster aid.

The deadline for government funding is October 1, marking the start of the federal budget year. In the event of a shutdown, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has pledged support for federal workers, including potential loan assistance.

Travelers in Chicago could also be affected, as air traffic controllers and TSA officers would work without pay, potentially leading to significant delays and longer wait times at airports, reminiscent of the chaos seen during the 2019 shutdown.

The Great Lakes Naval Base, a significant military installation, could see disruptions, impacting thousands of recruits and military staff.

Despite these concerns, veterans' benefits and healthcare would continue uninterrupted, with only regional office closures and some service disruptions for veterans' outreach and career counseling.

The U.S. Postal Service, an independent agency, would remain unaffected by a shutdown, ensuring mail services continue.

Federal courts would strive to operate, but civil litigation involving the federal government would be suspended. If the shutdown extends beyond October 13, court employees may be required to work without pay, potentially causing financial hardships for many.

In these uncertain times, the potential for a federal shutdown carries serious consequences for Chicago, Illinois, and the nation at large.

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