Government Shutdown FAQs
1. Practical Changes for US Citizens
Q:In practical terms, how will the government shutdown affect me and my finances?
A:Since 1977, there have been 17 government shutdowns. They usually last no more than 3 days, sometimes even less than a day. The most recent shutdown was in 1995, and it was also the longest at 21 days.
As you know, the federal government officially shut down at midnight on October 1. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed since then. Here are some of the changes you can expect:
National parks are closed. You cannot submit a new application for social security. Despite the GOP's attempts to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, the plan is already funded and online healthcare exchanges are open.
During a shutdown, there are exemptions for the employees who are necessary to protect public health, safety or property. This means you can safely eat meat, get food stamps, and pay taxes. If you are one of the millions of taxpayers who have requested 6-month extensions on 2012 tax filings, the deadline for that is October 15. That deadline is not expected to change. The IRS will suspend audit activities, but theywill resume as soon as the shutdown concludes.
You will continue to receive mail, as employees of the United States Postal Service are exempt from furloughs. You’ll receive your social security benefits, although some could be delayed due to a reduction in personnel. You should be able to get a passport, since the Bureau of Consular Affairs is funded by fees rather than appropriated funds.
All active-duty military personnel are exempt from furloughs, and Congress has approved a measure to continue to pay troops on time. Therefore, the United States is still protected by the U.S. military. For now, Amtrak trains are still running, and while you may find longer lines at security checkpoints, air traffic controllers and most TSA agents are working, so air travel has not been interrupted.
All National Weather Service offices will be open and will continue to provide forecasts and severe weather alerts.
During a shutdown, you can't apply for new Medicare or Social Security benefits. Althoughcurrent recipients will continue to receive payments, a reduction in staff meansno new applications can be processed.
You also can’t get a new small business loan. Existing loans would be honored, but new applications would not be accepted.
Medicare and Medicaid payments won’t be affected, though that could change if a shutdown were to stretch for several weeks. Kim Keister of AARP has stated that it isn’t clear whether the contractors who process Medicare payment claims are counted as “essential” workers who stay on the job during a shutdown. However, if payment to those contractors were to be suspended, it may result in delays in billing and reimbursement.
2. Social Security Benefits
Q:With the government shutdown, will I still be receiving my social security benefits?
A:Yes. Because social security benefits are mandatory, not discretionary, they aren’t affected by the appropriations process. According to the Social Security Administration’s contingency plan, payments to retirees and the disabled will continue uninterrupted. However, the agency needs to furlough 18,000 staffers, or about 30% of its workforce, so it’s closing its card centers. That means it won’t be able to issue new or replacement Social Security cards or replace Medicare cards. Applications for benefits won’t be affected, the agency says.
At the same time, the government is expected to hit the current federal debt limit on Oct. 17. If the ceiling isn’t increased, the government will be limited to spending only the cash that it has on hand and coming in the door. The Treasury Department will then have to decide how to allocate those funds. Keep in mind that the roughly 46 million people who receive Social Security retirement and spousal benefits are a large, politically active group and curtailing those benefits would be far from simple.
3. NCUA Insurance of Funds
Q:I know my savings are insured by the NCUA. Does the government shutdown change that?
A:As always, your deposits are insured up to $250,000. That’s because, as an independent, self-funded agency, NCUA does not rely on congressional appropriations. Your funds are always safe at the credit union.
4. Unemployment Benefits
Q:I receive federal unemployment benefits. Will that change because of the shutdown?
A:You will continue to receive unemployment benefits. Ironically, furloughed federal employees are applying for unemployment benefits in large numbers. Since this may change, watch the credit union website/Facebook page for daily updates.
5. The End of the Shutdown
Q:When will the shutdown be over?
A:No one can predict when the government will be back up and running. At this point, it’s best to “keep calm and carry on” while keeping an eye on the news for any changes.
6. More Information
Q:Where can I go for objective, updated information about the shutdown?
A:There are several news sites updated with information on an ongoing basis. Check out USAtoday.com for detailed questions and answers about the shutdown. Most of your favorite national news sites will also carry information relevant to the shutdown.