Oct 7, 2013 11:50 AM
A government shutdown is having far-reaching consequences for some, but minimal impact on others.
Mail is being delivered. Social Security and Medicare benefits continue to flow. But vacationers are being turned away from national parks and Smithsonian museums, and that's having a ripple effect on those businesses and communities that rely on tourism. Borrowers applying for a mortgage can expect delays, particularly many low-to-moderate income borrowers and first-time homebuyers.
A look at how services have been affected, and sometimes not, by Congress failing to reach an agreement averting a partial government shutdown.
AIR TRAVEL Federal air traffic controllers remain on the job and airport screeners continue to funnel passengers through security checkpoints. But safety inspections of planes, pilots and aircraft repair stations by government workers have ceased because federal inspectors have been furloughed.
INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL The State Department would continue processing foreign applications for visas and U.S. applications for passports, since fees are collected to finance those services. Embassies and consulates overseas are expected to remain open and provide services for U.S. citizens abroad. A small, but undisclosed, number of employees have been furloughed from several programs, including the State Department's Office of Inspector General and the International Boundary and Water Commission.
BENEFIT PAYMENTS Social Security and Medicare benefits continue to be paid out, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications. Unemployment benefits are also still going out. FEDERAL COURTS Federal courts continue to operate normally and will do so until mid-October. If the shutdown continues, the judiciary would have to begin furloughs of employees whose work is not considered essential. But cases would continue to be heard. The Supreme Court also says its business will go on despite the ongoing shutdown, and the high court will hear arguments Monday and will continue do so through at least the end of next week. The Supreme Court announced on its website that its building will be open to the public during its usual hours.
MAIL Deliveries continue as usual because the U.S. Postal Service receives no tax dollars for day-to-day operations. It relies on income from stamps and other postal fees to keep running.
RECREATION All national parks are closed. Grand National Canyon National Park was shut down for only the second time since it was created in 1919. The Grand Canyon averages 18,000 tourists per day in October, which has left hotels, concessionaires and tour operators losing money by the hour. In Washington, monuments along the National Mall have been closed, as have the Smithsonian museums, including the National Zoo. Among the visitor centers that have closed: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Alcatraz Island near San Francisco.
HEALTH New patients are not being accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, but current patients continue to receive care. Medical research at the NIH has been disrupted as some studies have been delayed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been severely limited in spotting or investigating disease outbreaks such as the flu or that mysterious MERS virus from the Middle East.
FOOD SAFETY The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they could handle recalls and high-risk foodborne outbreaks, but they are less likely to discover them because most of the people who investigate outbreaks have been furloughed. Routine food safety inspections conducted by FDA are suspended, so most food manufacturers won't have to worry about periodic visits from government inspectors to make sure their facilities are clean. U.S. food inspections abroad have also been halted. USDA's federal meat inspections are proceeding as usual, however. USDA inspectors are on the lines every day in meatpacking plants and are required to be there by law for the plants to stay open.
EDUCATION The Education Department has said that a shutdown beyond a week would "severely" curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities and vocational rehabilitation agencies that depend on department funds. For example, colleges rely on department funds to pay ongoing expenses for staff in programs for disadvantaged students. The department would not make additional details available on Friday about the number of districts, colleges and universities and vocational rehabilitation agencies that could more immediately feel the impact of a shutdown.
FOOD ASSISTANCE The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, has enough money to operate through the end of October, according to USDA. The department distributed almost $400 million in federal unexpended and contingency dollars this week to states to cover any shortfalls. The program provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, mothers and their children. School lunches and breakfasts should have enough funding to be served, USDA says, and food stamps will continue to be distributed through October. But both programs could face shortfalls if the shutdown continues into November.
TAXES Americans would still have to pay their taxes and file federal tax returns, but the Internal Revenue Service suspended all audits. The IRS also will not be processing any tax refunds during the shutdown. Got questions? Sorry, IRS call centers will not be staffed, though automated lines are still running.
LOANS Borrowers applying for a mortgage can expect delays, especially if the shutdown is prolonged. That's because many lenders need government confirmation of applicants' income tax returns and Social Security data. Mortgage industry officials say they expect bottlenecks on closing loans if the shutdown stretches on for more than a few days. The delays will particularly hit low- to moderate-income borrowers and first-time homebuyers who are seeking government-insured mortgages for single-family homes from the Federal Housing Administration. Multifamily FHA mortgage approvals are suspended. Action on government-backed loans to small businesses is also suspended. It's business as usual for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans, which are not impacted by the shutdown.
SCIENCE NASA continues to keep workers at Mission Control in Houston and elsewhere to support the International Space station, where two Americans and four others are deployed. It also exempted a robotic probe to Mars from the shutdown because time is tight to be ready for a once-every-two-year launch opportunity. The National Weather Service is forecasting weather and issuing warnings while the National Hurricane Center continues to track storms. The scientific work of the U.S. Geological Survey has been halted.
HOMELAND SECURITY The majority of the Department of Homeland Security's employees have stayed on the job, including uniformed agents and officers at the country's borders and ports of entry, members of the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration officers, Secret Service personnel and other law enforcement agents and officers. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees continue to process green card applications. However, the four Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers, run by DHS, have shuttered training operations for federal agents. The closure of those services could delay when newer employees with the Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and Capitol Police can go on the job.
LAW ENFORCEMENT The FBI estimates that in all, about 80 percent of its employees are working around the country. The FBI has about 34,000 employees. All FBI field offices around the country and the legal attache offices around the world are staffed and are prepared to meet any immediate threats and are protecting life and property. However, activities are suspended for other, longer-term types of investigations of crimes that don't involve an immediate threat. Training and other support functions have been slashed.
MILITARY The military's 1.4 million active duty personnel remain on duty. About half of the Defense Department's civilian employees were furloughed, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered nearly all 350,000 back on the job. National Guard and Reserve training has been cancelled for many units around the country.
PRISONS All 116 federal prisons remain open and criminal litigation proceeds.
VETERANS SERVICES Most services offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs continue because lawmakers approved money one year in advance for the VA's health programs. Veterans are still visiting hospitals for inpatient care and getting mental health counseling at vet centers at outpatient clinics. Operators are also staffing the crisis hotline, but regional offices are not taking calls. The VA continues to process payments providing veterans compensation for disabilities and pensions. However, claims processors are no longer being required to work 20 hours of overtime per month, which VA officials say is stalling progress in reducing the disability claims backlog, which stood at 418,500 at the end of September. If the shutdown continues into late October, the VA warns that compensation and pension payments to veterans will be halted.
TRANSPORTATION ACCIDENTS The National Transportation Safety Board is passing up investigations into most transportation accident unless officials believe lives or property are in danger. The board collected some preliminary evidence, but didn't dispatch investigators to an air crash that killed four people in Paulden, Ariz. The board also decided not to investigate a church bus accident in Tennessee that killed eight people, the death of a Washington-area subway worker, or a missing plane in the Mariana Islands. But investigators stayed on the job to probe a train collision in Chicago.
WORK SAFETY Federal occupational safety and health inspectors have stopped workplace inspections except in cases of imminent danger.
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