Travelers are screened by Transportation Security Administration officers at the Portland International Jetport on Wednesday. TSA officers will be required to work during the shutdown even though they won’t get paid until after it’s over. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Federal employees across the country, including thousands in Maine, are being warned to prepare for a likely federal shutdown that would disrupt pay and cause financial strain for many workers.

Much of the government could shut down if Congress doesn’t reach a budget deal by midnight Saturday, something that seems more and more likely as conservative Republican House members refuse to budge on their demands to cut spending.

Based on the last two government shutdowns, in 2013 and 2018-2019, about 40% of all federal civilian employees are likely to be furloughed if Congress fails to act this week. That’s more than 4,500 workers in Maine who will be shut out of their jobs and won’t receive a paycheck.

A majority of the remaining 7,000 federal employees in Maine still will have to go to work because they are deemed essential, but they also won’t receive paychecks during the shutdown. That group includes all federal law enforcement personnel, Transportation Security Administration workers, air traffic controllers, and most of the civilian workforce at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, the largest federal employer in the state.

The employees, whether they are furloughed or continue to work, will eventually receive back pay. But no one knows how long it would take for a new budget agreement, and the unions that represent workers are advising their members to prepare for uncertainty.

“I’m telling them to prepare for the worst and save as much money as you can,” Everett Kelley, president of the 750,000-member American Federation of Government Employees, which includes VA medical center employees, Homeland Security workers, and federal correctional officers, told CBS News.


The National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents employees in the Defense Department, the National Park Service, and more, has alerted members this month to “prepare personal finances.”

“Report to work as usual, unless your agency informs you in writing that you are officially furloughed. Otherwise, you risk an unexcused absence if you are not furloughed,” the memo reads.

TSA officers at Portland International Jetport. Maine has 11,855 federal civilian employees, the second-most of any New England state. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Attempts to interview federal employees in Maine this week were not successful. Local union officials deferred to national groups, provided only background information, or did not respond to inquiries. TSA workers at the Portland International Jetport said that they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Many federal workers in Maine and around the country have been through at least one previous shutdown and some are expressing their frustration.

“We’re continuously put on the chopping block every year. It’s ridiculous,” John Hubert, an airport security officer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told the Associated Press. The 42-year-old has worked at the TSA for 21 years and said he and TSA co-workers needed help from food banks to feed their families by the time the last shutdown ended. “We should not be put in this position every single year, then used as a bargaining chip to get legislation passed.”

Some families can survive longer than others without a paycheck or two. The last shutdown, in 2018-2019, lasted 35 days and food pantries in Maine provided help specifically for federal workers. Many who were furloughed applied for food assistance or unemployment benefits.


Assessing the impact is difficult because each federal agency is responsible for developing its plan for how to operate during a shutdown and which employees will be asked to continue working.

Departments and agencies can pay some employees temporarily with funds that didn’t come from annual appropriations authorized by Congress.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Maine has 11,855 federal civilian employees, the second-most of any New England state.

Shipyard Labor Contract

A shipyard worker walks to his car at the end of a workday at Bath Iron Works in Bath. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press


Nearly 7,000 of them, or 58%, are U.S. Navy employees associated with either Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery or Bath Iron Works, which builds Navy ships and has personnel there.

The next biggest category of federal employees in Maine is the Office of Veterans Affairs, which employs 2,352 workers here, largely at the Togus VA hospital in Augusta and at several outpatient clinics throughout the state, including a new facility that opened two years ago in Portland.


There are 852 Department of Defense employees in Maine, which includes some Maine National Guard employees. That doesn’t include any active duty service members.

No other federal agency employs more than 300 employees in Maine, but those who work for the Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, and Interior departments would be affected. The Interior Department includes national park lands, such as Acadia and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Agriculture includes farm and food safety workers, among others.

Among the employees who will be required to work but won’t get paid are air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officers. Maine has 186 TSA officers and 45 air traffic controllers at its airports, according to a memo issued by the White House this week about the possible impacts of a shutdown.

One area of concern is whether those workers will all show up. During the 2018-2019 shutdown, many air traffic controllers and TSA workers called in sick, which forced some airports to suspend operations.

The U.S. Postal Service would be unaffected since it does not depend on Congress for funding.

Legislation that passed in January 2019, following the last shutdown, guarantees that both essential workers and furloughed employees will receive back pay.

Because of that, many furloughed workers may forgo applying for unemployment benefits, since they would have to pay them back. But other families might not be able to go more than a week or two without a paycheck.

Some federal employees still get paid through a shutdown. The president and members of Congress, for instance. Supreme Court justices and federal judges, too. But their staff members – who all earn considerably less – do not.

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