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Kansas City faces outsized impact of looming government shutdown


A government shutdown would spread grief way beyond Washington. Most federal workers live outside the D.C. area. For example, the federal government is the largest employer in greater Kansas City, where about 41,000 people stand to temporarily lose their livelihoods. And as Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, they're hunkering down.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Fort Leavenworth, Kan., just north of Kansas City, is where mid-level officers go for basically Army grad school. It looks more like a leafy old university than a military stronghold - that is, once you get past the four to five gates, which are getting another upgrade.


JASON BORTZ: We are primarily a training installation training and developing leaders for the United States Army.

MORRIS: Jason Bortz, public affairs officer here, says all that training comes to an abrupt stop, and this bustling post goes a whole lot quieter Monday if the government sends him and close to 4,000 other civilian staff and professors home.

BORTZ: And while you are sent home or furloughed, you are not allowed to do any work. I can't check my emails. So it literally is, go home, and just wait it out.

MORRIS: Stressful. Bortz and his wife are already cutting back on groceries. He won't get paid during the furlough.

BORTZ: Kind of like COVID. I mean, COVID was an impact, too. And we just - you get through it, and at the end of the day, we'll make it up somehow.

MORRIS: You know what's worse than staying home with no pay? Working with no pay. But that's what active duty soldiers like Captain Benjamin Harney will do in a shutdown. Harney and his wife have four little kids at home. His mother-in-law, 12 hours away in Texas, is standing by to drive up and help. And they've been fortifying their bank account.

BENJAMIN HARNEY: And we have some money put away in savings for rainy day funds. So I will be able to make it for a little bit of time if I'm not being paid. My real concern would be, you know, not every service member is fortunate enough to have that fallback.

MORRIS: The shutdown would stop pay but not demands for payments - cars, food, credit cards, mortgages. Some banks are already marketing low, even zero-interest loans to help military personnel make ends meet through a shutdown.


AUTOMATED VOICE: If you're calling about Navy Federal's government shutdown loan program, press one.

MORRIS: But federal employees outside the military are less protected. In Kansas City, federal workers are facing what looks to Myrtle Bailey like a lumbering storm about to hit.

MYRTLE BAILEY: It's really time to adult (laughter). It's really time to grow up, put on your big-girl and big-boy panties and adult 'cause this is serious.

MORRIS: Bailey and her husband both wor for the IRS processing center in Kansas City.

BAILEY: We are - exposed is a good word (laughter). But it's not our first rodeo.

MORRIS: Bailey faced down a 35-day partial shutdown almost five years ago and says that now is the time to get resources in order.

BAILEY: This week you should be checking with your church, checking with food banks, checking with things you may not have had to use before.

MORRIS: Bailey, who describes herself as 69 years wonderful, has savings to draw on but not enough to weather a prolonged shutdown. She wishes lawmakers would run the government more like a business, one that can't just not pay its employees. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.