What could happen during a government shutdown?

6:42 PM, Apr 7, 2011   |    comments
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Richard Wolf, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - A partial shutdown of the federal government could begin Saturday morning and would affect some people, programs and services more than others. Here's a look at what could happen.

Q: What would I notice right away?

A: Many federal facilities would close, including national parks, museums and monuments.

Q: Would I still get mail?

A: Yes. The Postal Service is self-funded.

Q: Do I still have to file my taxes? What about my refund?

A: Tax returns still would be due by April 18. Returns filed electronically (about 70% of the total) would be processed; paper returns would not. Internal Revenue Service walk-in centers would close.

Q: What about my Social Security check?

A: A majority of monthly Social Security checks went out on April 1. Checks would continue to be sent later this month, including for Supplemental Security Income. But new applications could be delayed.

Q: How would the military be treated?

A: The two-week paychecks due April 15 for active-duty servicemembers and civilians would be reduced by half. Once funding is restored, back pay would be issued.

Q: How about veterans' benefits?

A: Hospitals and other medical services would remain open, but some customer support services would be suspended. Disability, education and other benefits should not be delayed if adequate staffing levels are maintained.

Q: What other federal payments would continue?

A: Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps are entitlements and therefore would not be affected. Student aid payments would be processed.

Q: What federal payments and services would be at risk?

A: The Federal Housing Administration would stop endorsing new mortgage loans. The Small Business Administration would delay new loans. Most passport offices would be closed, with only emergency services available. Mine inspections would cease.

Q: Would the trains run on time?

A:
They should. Amtrak, which is federally subsidized, can operate for a time on ticket revenue.

Q: Which federal workers would be furloughed?

A: An estimated 800,000 workers would be told to stay home, power down their BlackBerrys, and stay off their e-mail accounts. Even volunteering without pay is forbidden under labor laws. Their federal health benefits would continue. Unemployment benefits would be up to each state. In the past, furloughed workers have received back pay for missed days, but that's not guaranteed.

Q: Who would continue to work?

A: Anyone deemed essential - and that's a loose definition. It includes those involved in law enforcement, border protection, public health and safety, homeland security, air traffic control, prisons and disaster relief. It also includes people working on the shutdown itself.

Q: What about federal contractors?

A: The same theory applies. If they are considered essential, they would keep working. If not, they would stay home.

Q: What about the people responsible for the shutdown - at the White House and in Congress?

A: Elected officials are considered essential; their staffs are another matter. The White House anticipates lower staffing levels during a shutdown. Some members of Congress, such as Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., have said they would exempt some staffers in order to monitor how the shutdown is handled.

Q: What would be the impact on the economy?

A: Nationally, that's unclear. But in places such as the Washington, D.C., and near national parks, it could be severe. In Washington, trash pickup and street sweeping would be suspended, and libraries and motor vehicles offices would close. Even Saturday's annual Cherry Blossom Festival Parade is in doubt.

Q: How much would all this cost?

A:
The government has no estimate, but White House deputy budget director Jeffrey Zients said it would be "relatively significant."

Q: Who would get blamed for this?

A: In 1995-96, Republicans largely were blamed for the shutdowns. This time, it's less clear. In a Gallup Poll this week, 41% of Americans said President Obama and Democrats were doing a better job trying to reach a deal; 34% said Republicans were trying harder.

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