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Minnesota feels pinch of government shutdown, enters 'uncharted territory'

Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, told reporters about the impact of the partial federal government shutdown on the state budget and discussed plans for mitigating its impact. DANA FERGUSON / FORUM NEWS SERVICE

ST. PAUL — The ongoing federal government shutdown is costing Minnesota and how much longer the state can bear the expense is coming into question, state officials said Tuesday, Jan. 15.

As the state entered the 25th day of the partial federal government shutdown, budget directors said the state had doled out nearly $100 million to cover the costs of key federal programs but still didn't know if it could expect repayment from the feds.

A bipartisan group of state leaders called for President Donald Trump and Congress to end the shutdown, which stemmed from a disagreement between the president and lawmakers over a funding proposal for a wall at the United States' southern border. There seemed to be no effort to end the stalemate in Washington on Tuesday.

Gov. Tim Walz's administration said the state was covering the cost of services for the state's most vulnerable and ensuring federal workers don't face layoffs, but wouldn't be able to afford the backpay for federal employees currently working in Minnesota without pay.

"This is uncharted territory — this is the longest government shutdown," Walz said. "They've left a lot of states on their own, they've left a lot of people on their own and this is a state that will not leave anyone behind, this is a state that we're all in this together."

Meanwhile, roughly 6,000 federal employees in the state have been furloughed or asked to work without pay during the shutdown, said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans. About 1,000 of them had applied for unemployment as of Tuesday.

Frans said he planned to scour the funds that come to the state from the federal government to determine which funding delays would cause the biggest budget hits for the state and set a funding plan accordingly. Attorney General Keith Ellison said he would consider legal action against the federal government to collect reimbursement due to the state.

It's typical for the state to foot the bill for certain federal programs and later receive reimbursement from the federal government. But as the shutdown continues, state officials said they're having to weigh what the state can do to fill the holes and how long that will be financially possible.

“We're facing this dilemma about how much does the state step forward," Frans told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Human Services commissioner Tony Lourey said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would be the first federal program that would be hit by the halt in federal funding. Lourey said the 400,000 elderly, disabled or young Minnesotans who receive the assistance, also known as food stamps, would see their EBT cards reloaded for February later this month, but it was unclear whether they could expect assistance after that.

"When we're going to need to step in is around March 1," Lourey said, citing a roughly $40 million cost for administering the program for a month. "Food can't wait."

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said she'd also reached out to the 11 Native American tribes that share borders with Minnesota to see how the state can work in consultation with them and support them as they continue without key federal funds for education, health care and law enforcement. Tribal leaders said they were moving money around to fund programs the federal government wasn't, but some said they wouldn't have the money to sustain that for more than two or three weeks.

"This is about honoring these treaty and trust responsibilities and following through on promises made by the federal government," Flanagan said.

Minnesota lawmakers from both political parties also attended the news conference. Walz said he didn't have any immediate requests of legislators but suggested they prepare for budget conversations that could include conversations about covering federal spending as the shutdown continues.

"When Washington is in a disagreement, I think showing the stability of our state government in Minnesota is important," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. "You're talking about health care and food for our most vulnerable populations."

Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan meanwhile called on the DFL administration to press Democrats in Congress to agree to Trump's plan to end the shutdown.

"Governor Walz made it clear he is not listening to Minnesotans who are calling on their elected officials to secure our border," Carnahan said in a statement.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

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