By Mary Orndorff Troyan
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - The federal government shutdown is threatening the paychecks of thousands of federal workers in South Carolina, including many civilians working for the military.
Not even the people responsible for keeping the government open are immune: South Carolina's members of Congress have furloughed most of their employees, which will make it harder for residents to get a visa issue resolved or a Social Security question answered.
The Office of Personnel Management shows 22,431 federal employees worked in South Carolina in June. The largest group consists of more than 4,000 people working for the Navy and the smallest group is made up of one person employed by the U.S. Education Department.
Military personnel and postal workers aren't included and are unaffected by the shutdown.
Only those deemed critical for protecting public health, safety or property are allowed to keep working during the shutdown, which started Tuesday, and it's not clear they'll get paid on time. If the shutdown persists past the next pay period in mid-October, their checks could be delayed.
South Carolina accounts for only about 1 percent of the entire federal workforce. North Carolina accounts for more than 2 percent and Georgia for nearly 4 percent.
Nationally, an estimated 800,000 to 1 million of the nation's 2.1 million federal employees are being furloughed. Furloughing 40 percent of the federal workforce in South Carolina would mean sending about 9,000 people home.
The impact on the state's economy will be minimal, said Bruce Yandle, professor emeritus of economics at Clemson University. Federal employees make up only about 1.5 percent of the approximately 1.5 million people working in South Carolina.
"South Carolina does not have the federal sector it once had," Yandle said Tuesday. "The shutdown is major for each individual (furloughed) obviously, but as far as impact on the state GDP, I sort of doubt you'd be able to detect it."
Paydays for federal employees may be delayed but probably won't be lost, meaning consumer spending will recover.
"Their pay will be restored and that sort of irons out any wrinkle that might be there otherwise," Yandle said.
Yandle, who was executive director of the Federal Trade Commission during a government shutdown in the 1980s, said shutdowns can be even more damaging during an unexpected crisis or emergency. But the biggest impact will come from disruptions that can't be easily measured, such as getting permits to build a plant or obtaining a passport to attend a business meeting in Buenos Aires.
Congressional offices often help constituents navigate such issues, and those services may be delayed. Members of Congress from South Carolina are on the job - their votes would be necessary to reopen the government - but that's not true of most of their staffs.
The three Upstate congressman have closed some of their offices in the state and have skeleton staffs working in Washington while Congress remains in session.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, has kept his Rock Hill office open, but closed offices in Gaffney and Sumter, according to his spokeswoman. Only five of his 13 staffers were not furloughed.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, has kept five employees working. They are monitoring voice and email messages to respond to constituent emergencies, his spokeswoman said.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, has furloughed nine of his 16 staff members. A spokesman said the furloughs probably will rotate among employees, depending on their expertise.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott's Washington and Charleston offices are open but with limited staff, his spokesman said. Calls to the Columbia and Greenville offices are being forwarded to Charleston.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's office has furloughed the "vast majority" of his staff. Callers hear a voice message telling them to send an email if they have an urgent passport issue. Graham said Tuesday he is donating his salary during the shutdown to the Wounded Warriors Project.