WASHINGTON – “The District of Columbia is still open for business,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said Saturday morning, but it’s a juggling act to keep the city up and running during the federal shutdown.
The mayor is trying to remain optimistic as he struggles to keep his employees paid and his residents with the services they need during the shutdown, saying city residents don’t deserve this.
“We’re going to do everything to keep this city running,” Gray said, “to make sure services are delivered.”
Gray had deemed all D.C. employees “essential” in order to keep the city running when the government shut down. He said it’s not a matter of “if” the city has money but rather, what the city is allowed to use during the shutdown.
“We’re working hard to make available as much money in our reserves as we possibly can so people can get paid right away,” he said.
If the reserves dry up, Gray said he might ask city employees to keep working without getting paid until the shutdown ends.
“We hope you [city workers] will keep the city operating,” he said. “You’ll get paid as soon as this shutdown is done at the federal level.”
But Gray said he does have concerns about Medicaid payments, payments to charter schools are due at the end of the month, somewhere between $150 to $200 million. He says he’s hoping to work with charter schools to keep them open, but payments could be delayed until the shutdown ends.
In shutdown mode, Gray said the District is “pawn in a chess match.”
“There’s no reason why our money should require the authority of Congress to be spent,” he said. “This is the money of the taxpayers of the District of Columbia.”
The mayor said he’s spoken to the White House and to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, reminding lawmakers that the District is not part of the federal government and it’s not a federal agency.
But Gray said Reid told him, “Don’t screw it up,” in response to his pleas.
“There no other place that’s forbidden to use its own money,” the mayor said. “That’s all we’re asking.”
WTOP’s Kathy Stewart contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.