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What You Can and Can't Do in a Government Shutdown


If the federal government shuts down, can you get that passport renewed for your January trip? What about your Social Security check? And do you have to file your taxes?

We have answers.

Q: How much of the government could shut down?

A: What’s threatened now is a “partial” shutdown. Many agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, are already funded for the year and will continue to operate as usual, regardless of whether Congress and the president reach an agreement over funding for a border wall.

Still, the dispute could affect nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, The Associated Press reported.

Q: How many government workers could see their paychecks delayed?

A: More than 800,000 federal employees would see their jobs disrupted, including more than half who would be forced to continue working without pay, the AP reported.

According to a report by Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee, more than 420,000 federal employees deemed essential would continue to work without pay during a partial shutdown. That includes employees working in law enforcement, corrections, Homeland Security, TSA, Customs and Border Protection agents and 42,000 Coast Guard employees.

But more than 380,000 employees will be furloughed. 

All employees should be paid back in full once the government reopens.

Q: What about federal contractors?

A: Government contractors are in an even tougher situation. If their contract is funded, they are likely to be OK — but in past shutdowns some furloughed agencies have issued stop-work orders to contractors, according to the National Law Review.

Contractors may not be made whole after a shutdown. And remember, not all contractors are big-money corporations — the janitors at many government buildings are also contractors.

Q: I ordered my holiday presents from Amazon! Will they get here?

A: The U.S. Postal Service wouldn’t be affected by any government shutdown because it’s an independent agency and has its own sources of revenue. FedEx and UPS are private companies and would not be affected.

Q: I rely on my income from Social Security. Will my check still arrive?

A: Social Security checks will still go out. So will payments to Medicaid and Medicare programs and for veterans’ programs, including the GI Bill and VA hospitals. But if you are applying to join one of those programs, you might have to wait. 

And the U.S. food stamp program has only limited funding, if the shutdown stretches on.

Q: What about the Mueller investigation?

A: It is funded “from a permanent indefinite appropriation and would be unaffected in the event of a shutdown,” a Justice Department spokesperson told CNN.

Q: Can I go see Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and other national parks?

A: That depends. Most national historic sites, including Independence National Historic Park, have areas funded by the National Park Service and other areas funded by private organizations. The Park Service-funded locations would probably close; that would likely include the National Zoo and its popular panda exhibit, sadly.

Independence Hall would likely shut down, but the privately funded Museum of the American Revolution would remain open, public radio and TV station WHYY has reported. Similarly, the National Constitution Center will stay open; the Liberty Bell pavilion probably won’t.

The Washington Monument would close, as would museums along the National Mall.

In the past, the vast majority of national parks were closed to visitors and campers, but during the last government shutdown in January the Interior Department tried to make parks as accessible as possible despite bare-bones staffing levels. It was not clear Monday if that effort will be repeated.

Q: Can I renew my passport?

A: The State Department will keep issuing passports, Bloomberg reported. But you might have a little trouble accessing their offices if the passport office you want to go to is inside a building run by another agency and that agency gets shut down.

Q: Do I have to pay my taxes?

A: Yes. 

However, the IRS would have to furlough parts of its staff, which could affect the number of people available for tax prep help or investigations.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
Source: NBC San Diego

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