WASECA, Minn. — Sue McIntosh chose Dec. 21 well in advance for her retirement date from working at the Waseca, Minn., federal women’s prison.
Through no fault of her own or her old employer, the timing turned out to be inopportune. Last-ditch negotiations to prevent a partial government shutdown ended the same day McIntosh retired, leading to the still ongoing federal closure that prevents her retirement benefits from processing.
“When I picked my retirement date, I didn’t think we’d go in a shutdown that day,” she said.
The retired federal worker said she’ll make it through the delay fine but expects it to be a long wait for her benefits.
“I know anybody who retired at the end of the year, we’re going to be waiting for a while before our retirement benefits kick in,” she said.
The shutdown seemingly has no end in sight, creating an air of uncertainty over those impacted by federal closures in the Mankato area. The shutdown affects about 800,000 federal workers, many of whom missed their first paychecks last week, and millions more Americans in need of government services.
Thousands of federal workers persist at work despite no paychecks, including current staff at Waseca’s prison for women. About 97 percent of Federal Bureau of Prison workers perform what’s considered “excepted” functions during a shutdown, meaning their duties involve the safety of human lives or protection of buildings. The Office of Public Affairs for the bureau confirmed in an email ordinary operations continue in the Waseca correctional facility.
The city of Waseca is experiencing its own delay caused by the shutdown. Its application for a federally funded economic recovery coordinator is now on ice.
The position would focus on industrial recruitment of businesses to Waseca. City Manager Lee Mattson said the shutdown shouldn’t influence the application’s chances for approval, so the delay more so costs the city time during which an approved coordinator could start promoting the city as a business destination.
The shutdown has lingered into unprecedented territory, eclipsing the previous longest federal closure in U.S. history in 1995-1996.
President Donald Trump declared in December he’d proudly shut down the government to secure funding for a southern border wall, but he’s since tried to shift blame for it onto Democrat leaders who haven’t budged from their refusal to fund the wall. Congressional leaders adjourned for the weekend on Jan. 11. The longer the shutdown lasts, the more its impacts will be felt.
“I think a lot of us are hoping this issue is resolved rather quickly,” said Deisy De Leon Esqueda, manager at ECHO Food Shelf.
ECHO’s clients include recipients of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. About 8 percent of Minnesotans receive the federal assistance, and food shelves would expect an influx of clients trying to piece together meals if the funding stopped.
SNAP benefits are fully funded through January, while U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced plans last week to secure full benefits for February as well. The question then becomes what happens if the shutdown continues indefinitely.
De Leon Esqueda said the folks at ECHO monitor shutdown news just as they would for area companies at risk of closures or worker layoffs. Both situations create the potential for more people needing nutrition assistance at food shelves, which would necessitate more donations to keep up with heightened demand.
“We hope that the donations will keep coming in the way they have been, but we just never know what’s going to happen,” De Leon Esqueda said.
Many food producers are waiting out the shutdown, too. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency offices, which distribute market facilitation payments to farmers to offset effects of Trump’s tariff war, closed Dec. 28.
Most farmers received the second half of their payments prior to the closure, but those who didn’t submit applications or didn’t have their applications processed before the shutdown began Dec. 21 are still waiting.
Farmers also can’t tap into short-term financing options known as Commodity Credit Corporation loans, which the Farm Service Agency offices process. The nine-month loans are taken out on farmers’ stored 2018 grain production to help them finish last year’s accounts payable or prepay for crop costs this year.
Kent Thiesse, farm management analyst and senior vice president at MinnStar Bank in Lake Crystal, said farmers not having these options will grow into more of a problem in the coming weeks. March in particular is a consequential month for farmers needing to make land rent payments.
“I think so far it’s been probably not a huge disruption for farmers, but certainly if it carries on here past the month of January, it’ll become more of a concern,” he said.
Minnesota agencies serving victims of domestic and sexual assaults could lose federal funding available through the Crime Victims Fund beginning Jan. 18. Jason Mack, executive director at Committee Against Domestic Abuse, said he’s thankful state funding provides a buffer against the shutdown for the Mankato nonprofit.
Minnesota’s relative generosity toward advocacy organizations puts them in better positions than groups based in states more reliant on federal funding, he said. Minnesota’s Office of Justice Programs recently assured groups their state funding isn’t in jeopardy yet.
But a lingering shutdown at least raises the possibility funding could run out. CADA would tap into reserves to sustain programming if it came down to it, but Mack said ideally it won’t get to that point.
Not knowing when the shutdown will end, however, means bleak scenarios for millions of Americans are still in play.
“I guess I would say I’m moderately concerned at this point, particularly because everyone seems to be digging their heels in,” Mack said.