As a shutdown of the federal government looms on November 17, the American territories could see infrastructure, welfare, and other federal programs cease. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R) is considering an array of options to avoid a shutdown. In a shutdown, federal agencies would stop non-essential government services, and many federal employees would not receive paychecks. The territories faced a shutdown from 2018 to 2019 when Democrats in the House faced off with former President Donald Trump (R) over building a border wall. That shutdown affected over 12,000 federal employees in all five territories. Programs such as Medicaid and nutrient assistance, along with infrastructure and military affairs, would be severely curtailed.
After the government shutdown ended in January 2019, the American Samoa government prepared an aid program for federal workers and their families who went unpaid for over 30 days. Infrastructure projects were paused when the Department of Housing and Urban Development shut down. The territorial Department of Human and Social Services, the Territorial Administration on Aging, and the local Department of Homeland Security were all affected by the shutdown, with the governor shutting down departments funded by the federal government. During the 2013 federal government shutdown, American Samoa faced severe economic consequences, as 87% of the territory’s funding came from the federal government at that time. As the territory receives funding for military infrastructure and other Build Back Better programs, these projects could once again come to a halt.
In the 2018 shutdown, federal employees in non-essential services stopped working, though other services, such as TSA screening, continued. The Guam National Guard, all military bases, and veteran’s affairs offices would continue to work though many services would be halted. Members of the military service and essential federal officials and law enforcement would also work though they would not get paid. Federally-operated parks and reserves would close, similar to National Parks on the mainland.
Northern Mariana Islands
The effects on the Northern Mariana Islands would be similar to the other territories: dips in tourism, reductions in federal employment, and the shutdown of non-essential government services. The 2018 shutdown, however, had a limited effect. Besides the critical services remaining open, FEMA continued to assist with the recovery after Super Typhoon Tutu and Typhoon Mangkhut.
Government workers either worked without pay or did not work at all in the last shutdown, which would likely happen again. National forests would shut down, which could harm the tourism industry. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company paid the National Park Service $80,000 in 2018 to keep the San Felipe del Morro and San Cristóbal castles open. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other essential services would continue but could be delayed. A Medicaid delay could have serious effects as over one million Puerto Ricans depend on Medicaid for healthcare. Five years ago, Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico was running out of money, though the shutdown ended days before the estimated date. Infrastructure may not be affected, as FEMA continued to work during the last shutdown. As the territory struggles with unemployment, the shutdown could cost thousands of federal jobs and paychecks.
US Virgin Islands
Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D) of the USVI spoke on the House floor on September 14, warning against a government shutdown. She said, “This would inflict untold harm upon millions of hardworking families, and jeopardize our national security. This is not governance, this is political gamesmanship. They have chosen to embark on a perilous path that threatens the very fabric of our government and the wellbeing of our citizens in an attempt to slash vital investments in healthcare, childcare, education, and food assistance. This senseless self-manufactured crisis would disrupt critical government services.” In a separate interview, Plaskett said Democrats were ready to pass a budget. She noted, “We are ready to come to the table with reasonable ideas about what should be done. House Republicans are an island by themselves. […] He is now a hostage to an extreme portion of his own party that does not allow him to get anything done.” Before the last shutdown, USVI officials were worried that hurricane recovery, healthcare, and education would be impacted without federal funding.