Impact of Potential Federal Shutdown on Tribal Communities


Last Tuesday, Congress returned from their August Recess with one main goal—to pass appropriations legislation before October 1st and prevent a government shutdown.  Prior to the recess, the Senate passed all 12 of their appropriations bills out of the full Appropriations Committee with bipartisan support, while the House managed to pass one bill in the full chamber (Military Construction-Veteran’s Affairs). The House did not pass any other appropriations bill out of the full committee.

With only 9 legislative days remaining until the end of the fiscal year, there is an increasingly high chance of at least a partial government shutdown in the coming weeks.

Federal Shutdown Implications

From the Congressional Research Service report on previous shutdowns:

The relevant laws that govern shutdowns have remained relatively constant in recent decades. However, agencies and officials may exercise some discretion in how they interpret the laws, and circumstances that confront agencies and officials may differ over time. Consequently, it is difficult to predict what might happen in the event of a future shutdown. Still, information about past events may offer some insight into possible outcomes and help inform future deliberations.

This depends on whether Congress is able to pass at least some of the twelve annual appropriations bills, none of which have passed as of this alert. 

What happens at the tribal level when there is a shutdown:

  • Federally funded programs will not receive FY2024 funding until Congress approves it.
  • If the tribe does not have any other funds available from prior years, the program would not have funds to operate unless the tribe used other funding sources to run the program.
  • If the tribe has funds remaining from prior fiscal years they may be able to use those funds to pay employees until funds are exhausted.
  • If their programs run out of previous year money, tribes may consider funding (partially or fully) these programs until funding is restored.

If Congress were to pass some of the twelve appropriations measures as they are currently attempting to do with the “minibus” announced by the Senate this week, then a shutdown would be limited to the branches of the Federal government that were not funded through that legislation.

However, if Congress fails to pass any appropriations bills, then the entire Federal government, with the exception identified by each agency as described below, would be shut down.

In the event of a full or partial shutdown, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will require each federal agency to develop a shutdown plan, which would identify what activities may not continue until funding is restored, which workers qualify as “non-essential” and requiring furloughs, and how to halt/pause the agency’s activities. It is NAFOA’s understanding that Federal agencies are developing shutdown plans now, in case Congress fails to act on any of the pending appropriations measures by October 1.

The longest shutdown so far has been 35 days, from December 2018-January 2019, but that shutdown was partial, as five of the twelve appropriations bills had already been passed at the time funding ran out for the other seven. While both the House and Senate are still working on the twelve different appropriations bills, a package deal of the bills is more likely to pass than each of them individually.

There is no way to accurately predict how long a shutdown will last. Even if there is funding on October 1st, it is probable that Congress will enact a temporary funding measure, commonly referred to as a Continuing Resolution (CR), that will extend current funding to early December where we will again have to face a possible shutdown. 

NAFOA will continue to monitor the situation and provide necessary updates to tribes.


NAFOA Announces Former Yurok Tribal Leader Susan Masten As Interim Executive Director

NAFOA, founded as the Native American Finance Officers Association, names former Yurok Tribal Leader Susan Masten as its interim executive director effective today, June 1, 2023. She was appointed to the position by the NAFOA Board of Directors. As interim executive director, Masten will be responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the organization, as well as leading its strategic direction.

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