State relies on feds for $22 billion; will last through Jan. before programs take hit

State relies on feds for $22 billion; will last through Jan. before programs take hit. (Sinclair Broadcast Group/File - MGN)

The partial federal government shutdown is on track to be historic in length and, with no real end in sight, Michigan prepares for what that means to millions of people.

The state budget is roughly $57 billion, according to Budget Office Spokesperson Kurt Weiss. He said about 40 percent, or $22 billion, of that money comes from the federal government.

“So, it’s a significant amount of money,” he said.

The current shutdown began on Dec. 22, 2018 and has tied the record for the second longest shutdown in U.S. history; the longest shutdown lasted for 22 days, from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996.

“When we used to hear talks of federal shutdown, we used to scurry and get ready to do our planning and assessment,” Weiss said. “We don’t kick into high gear until we actually see the government shut down and now that we’ve seen that, we’re starting to do our assessment.”

Weiss said the assessment will give the state a better understanding of what programs offered through the state, but are federally funded, and have enough money to continue. Fear not, yet, he said. Weiss said the state has enough cash on hand to continue programs through January.

“If we are still talking about this in early February, we are going to be more in a panic mode,” he said.

Michigan would need to shift some state money, typically set aside for other budgetary needs, to cover for the federal dollars. Weiss said that Michigan has never had to do that before and is not sure what that would look like for the state’s bottom line.

“How do we use state money to cover loss of federal money, how do we move money around,” he said. “We would be made whole again at some point, those federal dollars would come back.”

When those federal dollars would come back, Weiss did not exactly know either, but he pointed out numerous programs and agencies that would feel a pinch if the state needed to shuffle dollars around to fill federal gaps.

“I think you would start to see road projects start to be impacted, agricultural projects start to be impacted, some of our food safety programs start to be impacted,” Weiss said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is an agency that would feel a large impact, if the current shutdown continues; food assistance and Medicaid are both programs operating with federal help, all under the purview of MDHHS.

“Food assistance, there’s about 1.2 million people. Over 200,000 people who receive WIC benefits and Medicaid, I believe it’s over 1.8 million people,” MDHHS spokesman Bob Wheaton said.

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a federally funded food assistance program for low-income mothers or expecting mothers.

The State Budget Office is also working on preparing the budget for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Weiss said the staff is currently still working on compiling that data, while also the statewide analysis of the various departments. All the tasks will get accomplish, but he said he hopes for an end to the government shutdown.

“Hopefully we can get to a point in government where we focus on those taxpayers and focus on providing those services and maybe put some of this political stuff aside, if you will,” Weiss said.

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