Skip To Content
September 29, 2023

Thousands in Frederick County would lose income, benefits, services if federal government shuts down

Credit: Frederick News-Post

Thousands of people in Frederick County stand to lose income, public benefits and access to national parks if a government shutdown takes effect this weekend.

Congress has until the end of the night Saturday to pass a short-term funding bill that would keep the government open while lawmakers continue debating the content of long-term appropriations bills for fiscal year 2024.

The U.S. House on Friday considered, but failed to pass, a bill that would have provided reduced funding for the federal government through the end of October. The Senate has yet to vote on its own short-term funding bill, which was introduced on Thursday.

If Congress is unable to pass a stopgap measure, the shutdown will start at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday. Frederick County residents would begin to feel the effects almost immediately.

According to a press release on Friday from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, more than 11,600 federal employees live in Frederick County.

“This looming economic disruption will reach far into our communities, affecting individuals, families, and the small businesses that serve this sizable workforce,” Kate Stewart, chair of the council’s board of directors, said in the press release.

According to the county’s Office of Economic Development, more than 4,600 federal employees worked at over 70 federal government entities in Frederick County in the first quarter of 2023.

Many of these Frederick County workers would see their paychecks paused in the event of a government shutdown. Contractors for the federal government, who are not counted in the above figures, would likely also lose work.

U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin have joined other Democrats in introducing a bill to ensure back pay for federal contract workers if the government shuts down, according to a press release on Friday.

Fort Detrick, which supports all four military services and five different U.S. Cabinet departments, is Frederick County’s largest single employer, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce.

In an interview on Friday, Fort Detrick spokeswoman Lanessa Hill said some facilities on the installation will continue performing “health, life and safety functions that are mission-essential” if a shutdown occurs.

Those facilities include the commissary, research labs, child care centers, and security gates. Hill said Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation services will not be affected as their funding is not tied to the appropriations process.

Other facilities at Fort Detrick will remain open with minimal staffing if a shutdown occurs, according to Hill. The military installation is awaiting further official guidance.

Aside from those who work for the federal government, people who rely on public benefits could struggle financially in the event of a shutdown.

In an interview on Friday, county Health Department spokeswoman Rissah Watkins said the program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in Frederick County is fully funded through October.

If a shutdown continued beyond October, WIC and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could be at risk.

People will continue to receive Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the event of a government shutdown — but reduced staffing could limit the programs’ other operations.

According to a press release from the Department of the Interior, the majority of national parks across the country will be closed to the public in the event of a government shutdown.

In Frederick County, this could include Catoctin Mountain Park, Monocacy National Battlefield and the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Spokespeople for those parks deferred comment to the Interior Department on Friday.

A press release from Rep. David Trone on Friday detailed some of the effects of a government shutdown, including:

  • Delays and safety concerns at airports as TSA agents and air traffic controllers are furloughed
  • Active duty and reserve personnel not being paid
  • A pause in processing small business, housing and farm loans
  • Interruptions to food safety, pharmaceutical manufacturing and other inspections conducted in the state 

The federal government last shut down between December 2018 and January 2019. That shutdown went on for 35 days.

County spokeswoman Vivian Laxton said on Friday that at that time, the Frederick County government compiled a list of resources for affected residents. If a shutdown kicks in this weekend, the county plans to have the same.