UPDATE 3:30 p.m.: The state Department of Social and Health Services will send thousands of people letters informing them that they may stop receiving social services starting July 1 if no budget deal is reached by the end of the day Wednesday, spokeswoman Chris Case said.
The agency has been waiting as long it can to avoid alarming its clients, expecting that a budget deal will emerge out of the Legislature at any time, Case said. But now a potential government shutdown is now only four days away, and the agency is obligated to legally notify clients in writing that their services may be disrupted.
“We’re kind of at a ‘gotta do it’ stage right now,” Case said. “You can only wait so long.”
Case couldn’t estimate exactly how many DSHS clients would be mailed notices Wednesday of a potential government shutdown, but said that one letter being sent out would reach 67,000 people, including immigrants who receive state-funded food assistance, pregnant women and people with disabilities.
Should no deal emerge out of the Legislature Wednesday, the Health Care Authority will also need to notify 19,000 children who aren’t legal residents that their health care services will end July 1, said agency spokesman Jim Stevenson. Those notices, which affect participants in the agency’s Children’s Health Program, will most likely be sent Thursday, he said.
The state department of Labor and Industries will also need to start notifying electrical contractors that no inspections will take place next week, which could stall construction projects, said Mary Alice Heuschel, Inslee’s chief of staff.
Heuschel met with Inslee’s cabinet heads at noon Wednesday to discuss plans for a government shutdown, and what actions must be taken to notify people of potential office closures that could start Monday if there is no budget by Sunday night.
While lawmakers have until June 30 to pass a budget and have it signed by Inslee, certain contractual and legal requirements mean that state agencies need to send advance notice of potential disruptions in service.
Notifications that must take place between Wednesday and Friday include the following, according to the governor’s office:
-The Department of Social and Health Service will have to notify 11,500 participants in workplace retraining programs that services may not be available Monday. DSHS will also have to notify many adults, children and elderly people that services could not be available next week.
-The Department of Enterprise Services will notify 1,400 contractors that their contractors may be temporarily suspended. Legally, these notifications must be sent by certified mail.
-The Utilities and Transportation Commission will suspend rate change applications;
-The Department of Licensing will stop processing applications for professional licenses and license renewals.
Heuschel said officials are still hopeful that a budget deal is coming, and that no shutdown will take place. But the state needs to be ready if it does, she said.
“This is a responsible approach to contingency planning, and this will be a state of emergency in our state if this does occur,” Heuschel told reporters.
State parks also are facing the possibility of canceling 7,000 reservations during the first week of July, the governor’s office said.
The organizers of one event, a large fiddle festival involving 5,000 people, have already been called and told of the possibility of park closures next week, said parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter.
Parks officials aren’t notifying any individual reservation holders yet about the possibility of closures next week, Painter said Wednesday. Parks employees have been telling people who call to check on their reservations that they may want to wait and see what happens at the Capitol, since a budget deal could emerge at any time.
“The best approach is just hang on and don’t panic, and if it should happen then you can get a refund,” Painter said.