FAQ: What does a government shutdown mean for you?

(NewsNation) —  Lawmakers returned from their August recess Tuesday, aiming to avoid a government shutdown that’s been looming for months.

The clock is ticking: The federal government’s fiscal year ends September 30.

Deciding a budget, and funding each of the 12 major federal agencies, is one of Congress’ main jobs. A bill passed in 1981, called the “Antideficiency Act,” adds to the urgency. It states that government agencies cannot spend any money without an agreement, including paying employees.

However, despite the legislation, the government has shut down over 20 times.

A government shutdown impacts a number of federal services, and its effects can be felt in many public and private sectors.

Will Social Security/Medicare payments continue to go out?

Most likely, though, there could be some disruptions. According to the Brookings Institute, certain benefits, including Social Security and Medicare, are authorized by Congress in laws that do not need to be approved every year. A letter from the Social Security Administration to Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young from August 14 details a contingency plan in case federal appropriations lapse during a shutdown.

However, some Social Security services may be delayed. In addition, new or replacement Social Security cards and replacement Medicare cards will not be issued nor will proof of income letters.

In an opinion piece for The Hill, Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, wrote that Social Security Administration employees would be forced to continue working with no pay until the shutdown ended, and they’d only be able to perform their “most basic work functions.”

“Non-automated and non-exempted SSA operations would come to a screeching halt. Current work backlogs would begin to grow again,” Richtman wrote.

What about other federal programs and services?

Because of the shutdown’s temporary furlough of “nonessential” government employees, programs and services that aren’t under Social Security or Medicare could be interrupted, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation writes.

For instance, the Office of Management and Budget in 2013 said that year’s shutdown disrupted “scientific research, services for veterans and seniors, and health and safety inspections by the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board” as well as other programs.

If a shutdown happens, the National Institutes of Health would be unable to admit new patients or progress grant applications, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said. Internal Revenue Service operations, because of “supplemental appropriations” provided through the Inflation Reduction Act, would continue, though, and its employees are exempt from furlough.

Would I still get government benefits under the shutdown?

Funding for various government assistance programs is set to expire soon if Congress doesn’t extend it. The Washington Post spoke to a senior Biden administration official who said the existing $5.69 billion budget for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program isn’t enough to provide benefits at their current level through the next fiscal year. WIC helps around 6.6 million families.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said without an additional $1.4 billion, WIC may have to “implement waiting lists, causing women and children to go hungry and pushing vulnerable families into poverty,” the newspaper reported.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is mandatory, but the ability to send out benefits could be affected by a shutdown. Continuing resolutions are only authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to send out benefits for 30 days after a shutdown starts. Stores cannot renew their Electronic Benefit Transfer card licenses either, so if a store’s license expires, it would not be able to accept SNAP.

Can I still travel?

Air travel was strained during the 2018-2019 shutdown as air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration agents worked without pay, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation said. Some TSA agents did not come to work, and security checkpoints were closed.

Those wanting to travel to national parks could also be out of luck. Many parks remained open during the 2018-2019 shutdown, the foundation said, though visitor services were not provided, and much damage and “trash build-up” were reported at sites nationwide. In 2013, the National Park Service turned away millions of visitors to hundreds of parks, national monuments and other sites.

Will I still get mail?

Postal Service operations will not be interrupted if a government shutdown happens.

A spokesperson previously said in a statement to Newsweek that’s because the USPS is an “independent entity that is generally funded through the sale of our products and services, and not by tax dollars.”

“Our services will not be impacted by a government shutdown,” the spokesperson said.

However, Newsweek points out that the USPS Office of the Inspector General might still be affected.

“Although the Postal Service is not funded with tax dollars, our OIG budget is attached to the appropriations process as a result of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA),” the USPS OIG said. “When the federal government shuts down, we must follow the shutdown process along with all the other appropriated agencies.”

What if I own my own business?

A Partnership for Public Service report says during the last government shutdown from December 2018 until January 2019, two major Small Business Administration loan programs, which typically give $200 million a day to “small and midsize U.S. businesses,” halted, derailing business plans and causing “economic hardship for thousands of entrepreneurs.”

About $18 billion in federal discretionary spending for compensation, for purchases of goods and services and for some federal services was also delayed. The report says business owners felt the crunch: A CNBC–SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey found that during this time, 35% of small business owners said they saw sales slowdown because of a lack of demand from federal workers, while 13% reported the “direct loss of revenue from a contract with a government agency.”

What if I’m a veteran or in the military?

Military.com, going off 2021 and 2018 guidance from the Department of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs Office, wrote that active-duty troops, along with National Guard and Reservists on active-duty orders, are expected to show up for work if a shutdown occurs. However, they aren’t paid unless Congress passes a separate piece of legislation.

In 2021, Military.com said that most Defense Department civilian employees had to be furloughed, with only those performing “exempted activities” like military logistics or surveillance spared.

A 2021 contingency plan from Veterans Affairs states that a projected “96% percent of VA employees would be fully funded or required to perform excepted functions during a shutdown.” All functions within the Veterans Health Administration, the White House VA hotline and benefits appeals processing would continue during a lapse in appropriations. Other functions, such as the VBA Education Call Center and IT not considered a “necessary implication,” would temporarily cease.

What happens to federal employees?

About 800,000 federal employees were either furloughed or went without pay during the last shutdown, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. While this affects these employees’ ability to pay bills and provide for themselves, it has even longer-term effects. Experts who spoke to the Government Accountability Office said prolonged shutdowns can change people’s perception of federal jobs and reduce their “attractiveness,” the foundation said.

What will happen to the economy overall?

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says actual estimates vary widely on this question, but evidence suggests that shutdowns cost a lot of money.

For federal agencies, putting contingency plans in place “has a real cost,” the committee said. In addition, a 2019 Senate report found the cost to taxpayers from the 2013, 2018 and 2019 shutdowns was around $4 billion. That’s at least $3.7 billion in back pay to furloughed federal workers and $338 million in other costs associated with the shutdowns such as extra administrative work, lost revenue and late fees on interest payments.

NewsNation’s Evyn Moon and The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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