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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, left, leads his first cabinet meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. At right is Blake Harris, his chief of staff. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Tennessee: Partial federal shutdown impact so far

› 6,700 federal workers in Tennessee furloughed or working without pay.

› 3,100 employees with U.S. Treasury Department/Internal Revenue Service. A number of employees have been called back to work without pay to help process IRS tax refunds.

› 1,000 employees with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the Farm Service Agency state office in Nashville and 59 county offices across the state that facilitate new assistance programs, as well as Food Safety and Inspection Service and Rural Development, which offers loans and grants to help create jobs and support economic development in rural communities.

› 980 Transportation Security Agency and Federal Aviation Administration employees at the state’s five commercial airports. All are working without pay.

› 600 Interior Department employees, many of them furloughed. The list includes National Park employees operating Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park; Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, which protects environment and public health from the adverse effects of coal mining operations.

› 200 employees with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville.

› 130 employees at the federal correction institution in Memphis.

› Tennessee’s 560,000 small businesses unable to receive guaranteed loans and technical assistance from the Small Business Administration state office in Nashville.

Source: Center for American Progress estimates provided by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who took office Saturday, is eyeing potential impacts in the state stemming from the partial federal government shutdown.

"We're monitoring that, particularly around services like food stamps, to try and be certain that we notify recipients so that benefits come as soon as possible," Lee told reporters Tuesday after meeting with his 23-member cabinet for the first time since taking office.

The governor said he remains "hopeful that the federal government will resolve this situation soon. But in the meantime, we will just follow it and ask each agency to give us information on how it might impact them and when."

The standoff between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over the president's demands for $5.7 billion for a border wall and security is now in its 33rd day.

Nationwide, it's impacting an estimated 800,000 federal workers — 380,000 have been furloughed and another 420,000 are working without pay — in agencies ranging from the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce to Transportation and Health and Human Services.

In Tennessee, some 6,700 to 7,300 workers are impacted, with an estimated 730 Transportation Security Agency employees providing security at airports now working without pay, according to a union official, while 300 to 500 air traffic controllers are working without pay.

Meanwhile, other federal workers in agencies like the Coast Guard are being impacted.

If unresolved, the impasse will by March affect an estimated 900,000 low-income Tennesseans on food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Earlier this month, then-Gov. Bill Haslam's Department of Human Services began rushing out February benefits.

Other anticipated impacts — should the fight extend into March and April — include problems in areas ranging from free and reduced-price school lunch and breakfast programs to housing vouchers for low-income Tennesseans.

"We'll begin to explore those as we get closer and see if there is anything that we can do," Lee said, later noting, "but we just don't know what they [impacts] are going to be yet. We don't know how long this is going to last."

Also, in late March, public transportation in major cities like Chattanooga and other areas all across the state could find themselves financially strapped if Washington is unable to reach agreement before then.

The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, CARTA, is working with the city to get local funds to tide the agency over in the event Washington can't reach an agreement.

CARTA Executive Director Lisa Maragnano told the Times Free Press last week that the federal government accounts for 17 percent of CARTA's $22 million annual budget.

Maragnano is also president of the Tennessee Public Transit Association, which includes the state's biggest cities as well as nonprofit entities such as the state-created Human Resource Agencies that provide transportation in rural areas.

She said she's worried about the operations in rural counties, where financial resources are thin, should the budget impasse not be resolved. It has the potential to hit every single one of the state's 95 counties, all of which have some form of public transportation, Maragnano said.

On another front, Lee said he expects to issue several executive orders starting Friday but declined to get into specifics.

In the meantime, Lee, a Republican, said he intends to maintain the practice of his two immediate predecessors, Republican Haslam and Democrat Phil Bredesen, in holding public budget hearings, with each department and agency presenting proposals.

Departments are required to present proposed spending cuts and savings as part of the exercise. Lee said the target amount for the proposed 2019/2020 budget he will present to state lawmakers on March 4 is 2 percent.

"We've asked every agency to present to us what those cuts would look like," Lee said, but emphasized that doesn't mean all the planned reductions will occur.

Governors typically take some of the recommendations and use the savings to fund their priorities or areas that demand additional money such as TennCare, the state's Medicaid program.

Lee said "we should be fiscally responsible and making certain we don't grow government beyond what it should be, particularly in times of prosperity, to prepare for those days when our economy is not so good. So we will ask every agency to let us know what those cuts would look like if we asked them to make them. It's just to let us know, if you get asked to make these cuts what would they look like."

The governor said his administration is closely watching Trump's plan to implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients who are able to work.

"There's federal requirements coming, but we haven't set a timeline for that yet," Lee said.

The new governor also declined to second guess several controversial last-minute pardons and other actions taken by Haslam as he left office. Haslam granted clemency and commuted several individuals' sentences, including a Hamilton County man convicted of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in a 1994 murder-for-hire plot that left one man dead and a woman permanently injured.

Asked if he had any concerns, Lee said "I think those decisions are very difficult and those are made one governor at a time and one case at a time. I trust the process and how the governor made those decisions." He noted he wasn't personally "privy to any of the information around those cases, so I trust those decisions and that process."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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