The government won't shut down even if Washington can't agree on the Affordable Care Act and pass a funding bill before the new fiscal year begins October first.
According to Forbes' Kelly Phillips, here's what's likely to happen:
- Non-essential employees, about 1/3 of the federal workforce, would be furloughed. The distinction between non-essential employees and those who are needed is discretionary but is guided by instructions from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). A memorandum issued by OMB in 1980 defines “essential” government services and “essential” employees as those providing for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property; providing for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year or other funds remaining available for those purposes; and conducting essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property. With that (and subsequent guidance), federal agencies are required to determine which of their employees are “essential.”
- Other federal employees would continue to work but, as in the mid 1990s, they would not be paid until the shutdown was resolved. And yes, that includes the President and the Congress.
- Federal contractors could work, in theory, since those funds have already been approved – but there may not be adequate staffers to issue paperwork for jobs. And you know how D.C. loves paperwork.
- HeadStart programs – those grants for preschool children to attend school – would not be funded, meaning that school would be out for thousands of children.
- Federal courts would remain open – for about 10 days. If the shutdown goes beyond 10 days, only “essential” work would continue. Most of the judiciary, including staffers, would not be paid until the shutdown was resolved. But Supreme Court justices and federal judges would collect paychecks.
- Social Security benefits would still be paid out but if the shutdown continues beyond a few days, other services provided by the Social Security Administration – including Medicare applications and the issuance of Social Security cards – would likely be put on hold.
- Foster care and adoption assistance services funded with federal funds or reliant on processing of federal paperwork would cease.
- Agencies that focus on public safety would remain open. That means air traffic and border controls would not be affected. National Security Agency offices would likely remain open (monitoring those emails and phone calls can’t wait) as well disaster assistance. Remarkably, however, the Center for Disease Control would likely be shut down as it was in the 1990s: that means no disease surveillance in the heart of flu season.
- Small business loans and mortgage insurance applications tied to government funding or agencies would not be processed.
- Workplace safety inspections would stop.
- Visas and passports would not be processed. In 1995, 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas went unprocessed each day of the furlough and 200,000 U.S. applications for passports went unprocessed. The loss to the tourism industry was said to be acute.
- Internal Revenue could see some furloughs (something they’re familiar with) but personnel to collect taxes would stay at work. As a rule of thumb, most of the folks who handle money would be safe from the shutdown. But the folks following the money? Agents and investigators would likely be told to stay home.
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms would delay processing alcohol, tobacco and firearms applications.
- National parks would close their doors; in 1995, that meant the loss of 7 million visitors, including those hoping to see the Grand Canyon, which was closed for the first time in its history. National museums would also remain shuttered; in 1995, that was an estimated loss of 2 million visitors. The loss to surrounding communities reliant on tourist dollars was estimated to be $14.2 million.
- Closures would extend to national cemeteries, where, among other things, headstones would not be laid. Additionally, medical and financial services for veterans would likely be put on hold.
- The mail would continue to run: remember, the U.S. Post Office is not reliant on government funds.
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