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What does a government shutdown mean for Colorado's 53,200 federal workers?

Congress was unable to strike a deal, meaning employees in nine federal departments -- including the Interior, which employs the most Colorado workers -- will be working without pay or be on furlough starting at 10 p.m. on Friday.

The House and Senate adjourned for the night without a deal, meaning parts of the federal government will be shut down at 10 p.m. mountain time on Friday.

The point of contention is funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall – something that led to the collapse of a temporary measure that would have kept the government open through Feb. 8.

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Six federal departments – including Defense – have already had their budgets approved. But, nine other departments and dozens of agencies are operating under an agreement that expires Friday night. That means 800,000 workers from across the country will be furloughed or forced to work without pay until the standoff is resolved.

The departments impacted are: Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development.

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Trump has said he is “totally prepared for a long shutdown” and that it’s “totally up to the Democrats” whether or not parts of the federal government shutter.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) meanwhile squarely placed the blame on Trump, saying Democrats would not budge on border wall funding.

What does this mean for federal workers in Colorado? 

There are approximately 53,200 federal workers in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Nonessential workers will not be allowed to work at all, but essential workers will be forced to fulfill their duties without pay. (More breakdown on that below.)

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said nonessential employees should file for unemployment immediately after the shutdown. You can do it online here: colorado.gov/cdle/ui or by calling the following numbers:

Denver Metro Area: 303-318-9000
Toll-Free: 1-800-388-5515
Spanish Denver Metro Area: 303-318-9333 Toll-Free: 1-866-422-0402
Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TTD) Denver Metro Area: 303-318-9016 Toll-Free: 1-800-894-7730

Here’s a breakdown of which federal departments in Colorado employ the most workers. Departments impacted by a potential shutdown are in bold: 

  • Air Force: 5,395
  • U.S. Army: 4,241
  • U.S. Navy: 59
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: 3,697
  • U.S. Department of Commerce: 1,419
  • U.S. Department of Defense: 1,442
  • U.S. Department of Education: 55
  • U.S. Department of Energy: 804
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 783
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security: 682
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: 343
  • U.S. Department of Justice: 867
  • U.S. Department of Labor: 347
  • U.S. Department of the Interior: 6,524
  • U.S. Department of the Treasury: 636
  • U.S. Department of Transportation: 1,390
  • U.S. Department of State: 35
  • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: 6,178

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Who will have to work without pay? 

According to USA Today, 41,000 federal law enforcement and corrections officers – such as prisons officials, FBI agents, U.S. marshals and Drug Enforcement Administration workers – will have to show up to work without the possibility of a paycheck.

And – this is especially important during the busy travel season – TSA workers will also have to report to work, as well as weather service forecasters and federal firefighters.

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Once the government reaches an agreement, both furloughed and essential employees will be paid the money owed to them whether they work or not.

But, according to the Conversation, the fact pay is withheld in the meantime can greatly impact the U.S. economy, which is heavily reliant on consumer spending.

What does this mean for your holiday plans? 

TSA workers will have to continue working, as will air traffic controllers and customs and border agents. Amtrak – which is owned by the federal government – will also operate as usual.

As for your packages, since the postal service is an independent agency, they aren’t impacted by the government shutdown.

If you were planning on bringing friends and family to the national parks in Colorado, the good news is that they’ll remain open, albeit in a limited capacity, according to the National Parks Service.

What this means is that roads that are now open will stay open, but that bathrooms that require maintenance (i.e. not vault toilets) will likely close since there aren’t employees to clean them.

Places like visitor’s centers will also be closed, and some parks could restrict access to certain avalanche-prone areas since they’ll lack the regular patrols they usually have. But, the National Parks Service said its goal is to maintain access to the particularly iconic places within them.

Those plans vary by National Park.

And if you plan to visit a National Forest over Christmas and beyond, the USDA said some rangers will still be working, as will emergency responders. 

And as for the NORAD Santa Tracker (which is based in Colorado), it will stay in business -- government or no government (just like Santa himself).

The Santa Tracker gets minimal federal funding and mainly relies on volunteers on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Anyway, NORAD is under the Department of Defense – which already has its budget approved and isn’t impacted by the shutdown. 

The impact on food banks 

The Food Bank of the Rockies, which utilizes three USDA-funded programs, braced for the government shutdown. 

That includes the senior box program, which gives 8,000 meals a month to seniors, the emergency food assistance program and the kids cafe' program, which provides 2,000 meals a day to kids. 

Janie Gianotsos, the director of marketing and community relations for the food bank, said it may have to dip into emergency funding to keep the programs running should the shutdown last more than a couple of months. 

"Of course we don't want to have to touch it for this, and we're hoping that everybody in Washington can come to an agreement and folks will get paid, and food will continue to flow through the system and help us feed people," Gianotsos said. 

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