Hawaii has tens of thousands of federal workers, including active duty military, who could be affected.

The federal government is expected to shut down just after midnight Sunday morning due to Congress’ inability to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the doors open. 

For Hawaii, the ramifications could be far-reaching, although the true impact will likely depend on whether a shutdown actually happens and just how long it lasts.  

The islands are home to more than 40,000 active duty military personnel who will be forced to work without pay and more than 23,000 civilian federal workers, many of whom will be furloughed while the government is without a budget. 

Two of the state’s most iconic tourist destinations, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and Volcanoes National Park, will most likely close

The nation is on the brink of a federal government shutdown. (Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2021)

And while the airports will be open, the air traffic controllers will not be getting paid. 

U.S. Rep. Ed Case says that the fact that the nation is on the precipice of a shutdown is shameful, and something that could have been prevented if Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was willing to work with Democrats on a temporary funding deal rather than bend to a small faction within his party that has put forth inadequate proposals. 

“It’s just political theater and gamesmanship,” Case said. “This is what disgusts me about this place and I think it’s what disgusts most Americans about this place too.” 

One of the most pressing needs for Hawaii has been federal disaster relief to help the state respond to the deadly wildfires on Maui that claimed the lives of at least 97 people in Lahaina and left thousands more homeless. 

Although members of Hawaii’s delegation have been calling for Congress to approve legislation that would replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund — which is beginning to run low on cash — a government shutdown should not affect what’s currently happening on the ground in Maui, Case said, at least in the interim. 

Maui has priority over other disasters receiving money from FEMA because it is in active recovery. 

Already the agency has started curtailing some of the aid it has been distributing to agencies and organizations working on prior disasters, some of which occurred years ago, in order to save money while Congress continues to fight over how to fund the government and replenish the FEMA fund. 

The White House said that nearly 2,000  long-term disaster recovery and preparedness projects across the country, including a dozen in Hawaii, have had funds delayed due to the brinkmanship. 

“Because we’re one of the most recent disasters in the country we’re going to be able to continue for now, but it’s not endless,” Case said. “If we went into a months-long government shutdown we definitely would have to worry.” 

“This is what disgusts me about this place and I think it’s what disgusts most Americans about this place, too.” 

Hawaii Congressman Ed Case

The last time the government shut down was December 2018 when President Donald Trump was in the White House. That shutdown was the longest in U.S. history and lasted for 34 days.   

Andrew Lautz, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the economic impacts of that shutdown, which at the time only included a handful of government agencies, was about $3 billion. If Congress can’t cut a deal to avert a shutdown this year the economic losses could be even greater depending on how long it lasts because all government agencies would be involved. 

“We would expect the economic damage to be broader for a long shutdown this year, more so than it was in 2018 and 2019,” Lautz said.

While it can be hard to measure just how much of an effect a government shutdown can have on a local economy, he said the impact it has on federal workers can be meaningful, especially the longer it goes on. 

While federal employees will receive back pay after the shutdown ends, one or two missed paydays can have lasting effects, he said. 

“Some federal workers are paycheck to paycheck,” Lautz said. “Missing even one paycheck can cause the workers and their families to go into credit card debt, it can result in missed auto or mortgage payments and it can have ripple effects on the local economy.”

Federal contractors have even less certainty since there’s nothing in federal law stating that they will be paid for missed work, which means there’s no guarantee they’ll ever be made whole again.

“Any shutdown is a bad shutdown,” Lautz said. “Even a day or two can come with a lot of opportunity costs.”  

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