The state needs to prepare for federal shutdown, part two

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia was facing “uncharted waters” had the federal government shutdown gone beyond one month. That according to state Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss.

“There are a bunch of issues that you run into that we don’t have any clear guidance on,” Kiss told a Legislative interim committee Monday morning. “Those are the kinds of things that may make some logic for the Legislature to start looking at, certainly on an interim cycle.”

Kiss along with the governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Pizatella addressed a joint committee on finance Monday at the state Capitol.

Pizatella said a little more than a week before the government shutdown, which started on Oct. 1, his office sent out word to all departments within the state to prepare for two scenarios. One of those was a shutdown that lasted for less than a month, the other, a shutdown that extended beyond Nov. 1.

The shutdown ended with a vote by Congress on Oct. 17.

“I am very pleased to say that we did not have to change or curtail or eliminate any programs,” explained Pizatella. “We did not have to curtail or change any positions. There were no layoffs. There were no furloughs.”

With the partial shutdown deadline extended to Jan. 15 and the debt ceiling to Feb. 7, Pizatella said we could be facing a similar situation again in just a few months.

“I think it’s safe to say that we are relying on and unreliable partner, at this stage, which is the federal government,” said Pizatella.

The state currently has 5,100 employees that are either fully or partially paid by the federal government. The deputy chief of staff stressed, at this point, the state doesn’t have the money to fund their salaries, if the shutdown were to go beyond one month.

“Should we have to take any action related to personnel or related to any of those positions that are strictly funded by the federal government, there was nothing in the West Virginia code that authorized us to take those kinds of temporary measures that we would need to take should the federal government shutdown go beyond November 1,” according to Pizatella.

In fact, Kiss said there are multiple programs that could come to a complete stop if a shutdown were more than a month.

“Some of these program, particularly DHHR’s programs, programs that are both state and federal funded, Medicaid being a good example and food stamps, that are entirely federal funded, the state would probably have been very hard pressed to carry those programs for more than several weeks.”

Kiss and Pizatella suggested it’s time for the Legislature to start considering how state government can insulate itself, as much as possible, from future instability.

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