D.C. Services During Shutdown Could Hinge on “Essential” Worker Declaration

Region could lose $200 million per day in a shutdown; trash pickup, rec centers at risk

The District of Columbia is still waiting to see if it will be allowed to keep city services running with an unusual gambit: declaring all city employees as "essential" workers.

Essential workers would stay on the job in the event of a government shutdown.

In past government shutdowns, some city services, including libraries, recreation centers and trash pickup, have been curtailed. The federal government has final say on how the District spends its money, even when that money is collected from local taxes -- an issue that led to a successful, though toothless, referendum on the issue in April.

District Mayor Vincent Gray made the declaration Wednesday in a letter to the federal Office of Management and Budget. But it's not clear how the federal government will respond; the White House Budget Office has the final say on the issue.

As of Monday morning, the OMB had not yet rejected the mayor's declaration. 

The good news is, the District has money on hand that's already been authorized by Congress -- enough to wait out a couple of weeks of a shutdown.

That reserve is a good thing, since D.C.'s attorney general has warned the mayor could be arrested for spending any money Congress hasn't authorized.

If a shutdown happens, police, firefighters and other public safety officials in D.C. would stay on the job. The District's public schools would remain open.

Parking tickets would go on hiatus, though trash collection would too.

The move is unprecedented in District government, and reflects growing frustration over the District's inability to control its own budget, even the money that comes from local taxes and fees.

The City Council expressed some of that frustration at a meeting last week.

"Enough is enough when it comes to our money," said At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, according to the Washington Post. "We should keep this government open."

“Let’s do what the rest of this country is doing with respect to Congress: Ignore it,” said At-Large Councilman David Catania.

Meawhile, the region braced Monday for a shutdown, which could hammer the area economy. The Post estimated Monday that the region could lose $200 million a day in a shutdown, and as many as 700,000 workers in the D.C. area could take some financial hit if the government shuts down.

One economist said about 60 percent of the 377,000 federal workers who live in the D.C. area could be forced to stay home; about 20 percent of government contractors also could be affected.


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