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Will federal shutdown hamper FEMA in fire-scarred California?

In a standoff over border security, President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats were poised Friday to shut down large swaths of the federal government, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees furloughed or without pay through at least the holidays.

In fire-scarred California, the looming threat raises the question: would a partial federal shutdown slow the government’s response to disasters in places like Paradise, which was almost completely destroyed in last month’s Camp Fire?

The answer, experts say, is no — at least not in the short term.

The 600 Federal Emergency Management Agency employees deployed to fire recovery efforts in Butte County and in Southern California are paid from federal funds that are separate from the current Congressional budget negotiations, said FEMA spokesman Michael Hart.

A shutdown is “not going to effect our operations,” Hart said. “All the critical disaster functions are definitely going to continue.”

That applies to FEMA’s communications professionals such as Hart, who will continue working and getting paid, he said.

FEMA has around 19,631 employees. About 15,200 would continue working under a shutdown, according to an analysis on the effects of a possible shutdown issued by the FEMA’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

While it won’t matter much in the short term, losing 4,400 employees to furlough over a longer period would probably lead to delays in processing aid applications and other bureaucratic functions, said Jerry Quinn, a disaster-aid consultant based in Folsom.

“Would it gum it up if it goes on for more than a couple of days at a time? Absolutely,” Quinn said. “FEMA’s bureaucratic process is plenty slow enough.”

In the past, most budget fights that led to government shutdowns only lasted a couple of days, but in 1996, a shutdown lasted three weeks. A 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days.

Trump tweeted Friday morning that if he doesn’t get his way, “There will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time.”

Ryan Sabalow covers environment, general news and enterprise and investigative stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. Before joining The Bee in 2015, he was a reporter at The Auburn Journal, The Redding Record Searchlight and The Indianapolis Star.