City News

UPDATE: What to expect in Salem if the federal government shuts down

UPDATE: 3:30. p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30 – The U.S. House passed a funding bill with major help from Democrats on Saturday, sending a measure to avert a government shutdown to the U.S. Senate 335-91. Oregon’s entire delegation voted for the measure:

Republicans: U.S Rep. Cliff Bentz, U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer

Democrats: U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle, U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas


Thousands of federal workers in Salem and across Oregon will stop being paid Sunday if the federal government shuts down, but most local programs that rely on federal support will remain running for at least a month, state and local officials said.

That means Salemites will still receive their mail, be able to fly out of the city airport and receive food assistance and health care through the Oregon Health Plan.

The federal government will partially shut down at midnight on Sunday, Oct. 1, if Congress doesn’t agree to legislation to fund government operations.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s effort to pass a temporary spending bill Friday afternoon failed after all House Democrats and 21 Republicans voted against it. The measure included deep cuts to social programs, the Washington Post reported.

In a partial shutdown, some federal government workers whose salaries don’t depend on funding from Congress would continue working and getting paid. For example, the U.S. Postal Service, which is funded through the revenue it earns, will continue operating.

Government workers paid through Congress whose jobs are deemed essential would remain at work without pay and receive back pay once the government reopens. Other federal employees would be furloughed without pay.

In a Friday news conference, Oregon Congressional Democrats blamed the shutdown on their Republican colleagues, saying the shutdown would have devastating impacts on Oregon’s semiconductor industry and members of the military who would work without pay.

“Our service members deserve so much better than being used as pawns by the majority that is truly unfit and unwilling to govern,” said Rep. Andrea Salinas, whose district includes Salem. “Every Oregonian in my mind deserves so much better.”

The federal government last shut down from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019, when the Trump administration sought funding to build a border wall, which Democrats refused. It reopened when Trump signed a bill backing down from the demand, according to AP News.

The shutdown lasted 35 days, the longest in U.S. history.

Local and state officials said the impact of a shutdown will depend in part on its duration, with a longer shutdown leading to more delays in programs that depend on federal money or permits.

Here’s a guide to what to expect in Salem.

Federal workforce

About 1,500 federal government employees work in the Salem area, 2% of the local workforce, according to the city’s 2022 financial report.

It’s not clear how many of those workers would be furloughed or working without pay during a shutdown, since that depends on the type of work performed. But many, including law enforcement officers, scientists, would go without paychecks, affecting their ability to buy groceries and pay rent.

Statewide, Oregon has about 28,400 federal employees, said Gail Krumenauer, state employment economist. Of those, she estimated about 7,400 would be impacted by a shutdown.

Salem’s airline debut

City officials are still planning for the departure on Thursday, Oct. 5, of the first commercial air flight out of the Salem Municipal Airport in over a decade. 

Transportation Security Administration workers and air traffic controllers are among the federal employees slated to remain on duty without pay if the government shuts down.

Avelo Airlines’ first flight to Las Vegas from Salem remains on schedule as of Friday afternoon.

Housing and rental assistance

Salem Housing Authority has money in hand to operate through October to continue federal rent subsidies, meaning no one in public housing will lose help with paying rent.

Melanie Fletcher, housing authority administrator, said in prior shutdowns the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development kept federal workers on the job to approve funding requests from local housing authorities.

She said the authority could see delays in federal review of documents and processes, but the Section 8 rental vouchers thousands of Salemites depend on for housing shouldn’t be affected.

City bridges, senior services

A longer shutdown could delay planned bridge repairs in Salem and impact services at Center 50+, city officials said.

The city expects to submit permit applications for two bridge rehabilitation projects in the next two to three months, spokeswoman Courtney Knox Busch said. A backlog in approvals because of the shutdown could delay the work.

Center 50+ relies on some federal money to operate, and programs could be impacted if that money was delayed, Knox Busch said.

Road projects won’t be affected, as the city has funding approvals in place through the end of the year, she said. But other federal grants could be delayed, impacting programs like low-income utility assistance run through the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency.

School lunch, Head Start

Head Start, a federally-funded preschool program for low-income families, wouldn’t be impacted immediately by a shutdown, said Eva Pignotti, who manages Head Start for the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. She said the agency has enough federal and state money to keep operating for some time.

“If the shut down extended beyond a couple of months, then we might have to make some decisions about operations, but not right away,” she said in an email.

A short-term shutdown wouldn’t affect free school breakfasts and lunches in the Salem-Keizer School District. The cost of those meals is reimbursed by the federal government.

District spokesman Aaron Harada said school operations wouldn’t immediately be affected, but the district hasn’t yet analyzed the impacts of a long-term shutdown.

Health care, food aid

State social welfare programs that rely on federal money would continue to operate at least through October.

Oregon has enough money to pay food stamps, also known as SNAP, benefits through the month of October in the event of a government shutdown, said Jake Sunderland, spokesman for the state Department of Human Services.

That’s also true of Temporary Aid to Needy Families, also known as welfare.

Pregnant women, infants and children who rely on food from the Women, Infants and Children program are set through mid-December. The state has enough money to pay benefits through then without federal dollars, the Oregon Health Authority said.

Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program, relies on federal money for over half its budget, but has enough money to keep paying bills during a shutdown.

The state is closely monitoring the impact of a shutdown, said Robb Cowie, spokesman for the health authority.

“For now, state health officials do not expect any immediate disruptions in state health programs due to a federal government shutdown. People enrolled in the Oregon Health Program (OHP) should continue (to) seek the health care they need,” he said in a statement.

Salem Health wouldn’t immediately see an impact and expects payments from Medicare and Medicaid to continue during the shutdown, spokeswoman Lisa Wood said, though some reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency could be delayed.

Reporters Abbey McDonald and Ardeshir Tabrizian contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.