Government shutdown: which services may – and may not – be affected

Americans, including hundreds of thousands of federal employees, may soon feel the impact of a U.S. government shutdown. If lawmakers can’t come to a deal by the end of Thursday – the last day of the fiscal year – the federal government will officially shut down at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Congress is one more step towards a stop after Senate Republicans blocked a bill Monday night finance the government at current levels and suspend the debt ceiling.

Most Americans would notice the disturbance one way or another. Many national parks would likely close, while mortgage and other applications could be delayed as the IRS could stop checking income and social security numbers, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a group nonprofit that focuses on tax matters. .

Government services deemed essential – usually tasks important to national safety and security, such as border protection and air traffic control – would continue despite a shutdown. But the disruption would come at a sensitive time, with many Americans struggling to regain their foothold amid the ongoing pandemic and the economy grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

“Every closure is different – agencies have a lot of latitude as to what they can continue to do,” said Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at CRFB. “Everything that is not essential has to stop, but there are different definitions of essential work.”

For example, one wonders whether work on COVID-19 vaccines at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection would be considered essential. Pfizer said on Tuesday it had sent data to the FDA on its clinical trials of the vaccine in children aged 5 to 12.

The biggest impact can be felt by the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are likely to be put on leave if a shutdown occurs, experts say.

“You have 2 million hard-working civilian employees across the country,” Max Stier, chairman of the non-partisan think tank Partnership for Public Service, told CBSN. “You told them all that there might be a shutdown – that means they really have to stop working on things like the [Montana] train crash or face the economic calamity caused by the pandemic. “

The showdown in Congress comes as lawmakers also debate an increase in the country’s borrowing limit, or “debt ceiling,” adding to potential political twists and turns. Here’s what you need to know if the government closes this week.

Are we considering a full or partial shutdown?

It would be a complete shutdown since Congress has yet to pass any fundraising bills. The last closure, from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019, was a partial closure since Congress had already enacted five of the 12 appropriation laws.

This means that more federal agencies would likely be affected by a new closure. The partial shutdown in 2018-19 was a record 35 days, slashing economic growth in the last three months of 2018 by $ 3 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimated.

What essential services would continue?

Each federal agency would have its own closure plan, which is coordinated by the Office of Management and Budget. These efforts would determine what government activities would stop until the political standoff between Democrats and Republicans is resolved and funding is renewed.

But all essential services would continue. Here are some of the services that have been maintained during previous closings, according to the CRFB.

  • Border protection
  • Medical care in hospital
  • Air traffic control
  • Law enforcement
  • Maintenance of the electrical network

How many federal employees would be put on leave?

A full government shutdown would likely impact more federal workers than the previous partial shutdown in 2018, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said.

This could be on a similar scale to the closures of 2013 and early 2018, when about 850,000 of the 2.1 million federal non-postal workers were put on leave, the group estimated. During the 2018 episode, about 380,000 federal workers were put on leave, according to the Public Service Partnership.

Federal workers on leave are not allowed to work during a stoppage and are not paid while on leave, but would end up receiving back wages once the blockage is resolved. But this disruption could have a wider economic impact, according to Jacqueline Simon, director of public policy for the American Federation of Government Employees.

“It’s not just the federal employee who suffers when there is no paycheck on payday – its owner is not paid,” she said. “The credit card company doesn’t get paid, the utilities don’t get paid. They don’t go to the grocery store or buy a lot of groceries.”

Would benefits such as social security and health insurance be affected?

No, say the experts. This is because Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are mandatory spending programs, which means they are not subject to annual appropriations.

But as the government continues to make payments for Social Security beneficiaries and people covered by Medicare and Medicaid, other services could be disrupted.

For example, the verification of benefits as well as the issuance of cards would be interrupted during a shutdown, the group said. This could create problems for some, as benefit verification is sometimes required when people apply for loans, mortgages, or other services that require proof of income.

Would the post office continue to deliver the mail?

Yes, because the US Postal Service does not depend on federal taxpayer dollars for its operating budget.

In an unrelated change, however, the delivery standards of the Postal Service would slow down for some customers as of Friday, the USPS said Monday. This is due to an ongoing operational overhaul which, according to postmaster Louis DeJoy, will stem billions of dollars in losses and put the agency on the path to profitability.

“Mail traveling the longest distances will be the most affected, with a day or two of transit time added for some first-class mail and periodicals,” the agency said. noted.

Would national parks be closed?

It’s possible. The National Park Service closed all of its parks to visitors during the 2013 shutdown. But during the 2018 shutdown, many parks remained open while park services like garbage removal were halted. Without staff to maintain the parks, some of the country’s iconic parks suffered from overflowing garbage and harmful behavior such as illegal off-road driving.

Would the IRS continue to operate?

In the event of a closure, the tax administration may not be able to provide its normal service of verifying income and social security numbers. This would put a damper on mortgage applications and other loan approvals and potentially delay loan processing, the CRFB said.

During the 2018 shutdown, the White House promised that tax refunds would not be affected, reversing an IRS plan to halt checks during the gap. Despite this commitment, refunds did not go exactly as planned: “At least 26,000 IRS employees on leave were called back to work during the 2018-19 shutdown for tax season, but 14,000 did not show up for work without pay, ”the CRFB mentioned.

Would food stamps be delayed?

Funding for the food stamp program – called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – is mandatory, but the government’s ability to distribute the benefits to its 42 million beneficiaries could be affected, the CRFB said.

This is because an interim funding bill would be required to authorize the Department of Agriculture to send benefits for 30 days after the start of a shutdown. During the 2018 shutdown, the USDA avoided this problem by providing food stamp allowances in early January 2019. If it hadn’t done so before the 30-day window expired, the agency would not have been able to pay the allowances in March. , according to the CRFB.

What else could be impacted?

Many other government agencies and programs would be cut off, although Americans are unlikely to be aware of many of the disruptions. During the 2018 shutdown, agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NOAA had to suspend their work.

Yet while Americans might not notice the shutdown of agency programs when shutdowns, such shutdowns could have very real effects. For example, “In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency halted site inspections for 1,200 different sites that included hazardous waste, drinking water and chemical facilities,” said CRFB.

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