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Without Action, a Government Shutdown Could Start Tomorrow

No two shutdowns are the same, but the IRS would likely stop verifying homebuyers’ Social Security numbers and income. That created backlogs in earlier shutdowns.

NEW YORK – As the federal government teeters near the edge of another shutdown, you might wonder what it could mean for you if the slow gears grind to a halt.

Congress hasn’t adopted any appropriations bills before the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. If it doesn’t meet the deadline by midnight Sept. 30 – or adopt a continuing resolution to buy more time – a shutdown is likely.

That means nonessential government functions would cease until Congress adopts funding and President Joe Biden signs it into law.

Question: What agencies are affected by a government shutdown?

Answer: Every shutdown is a little different. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) coordinates plans for a shutdown developed by each federal agency. Those plans are updated on a rolling basis.

The guidelines OMB gave those agencies say functions that continue must fall under legal exceptions, including one that prohibits halting functions related to public safety. Mandatory spending programs that don’t require annual authorization also would continue.

Air traffic control, law enforcement and power grid maintenance have been among the public safety services that kept running during previous shutdowns, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are mandatory spending programs that would continue to operate, according to CRFB.

If Congress cannot reach a deal, this would be the first shutdown during a pandemic. It’s unclear how a shutdown would affect the federal government’s response to COVID-19.

Q: When was the last government shutdown?

A: The last government shutdown was at the end of 2018 and the start of 2019. It lasted for 35 days, beginning Dec. 21, 2018. It followed brief shutdowns in January and February 2018.

Before that, the government ceased operations for 16 days in October 2013 and 21 days from December 1995 to January 1996.

A shutdown was narrowly avoided at the end of 2020. After a standoff with lawmakers, President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that was attached to a spending measure that kept the government open through September.

Q: What could be affected during a shutdown?

  • Social Security and Medicare: Payments would continue, but benefit verification and card issuance would stop.
  • National parks: Some park gates remained open during the last government shutdown, but visitor services and maintenance stopped.
  • Flights: Air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officers worked through the last shutdown, but slowdowns were reported in airports.
  • Mortgage and loans: The Internal Revenue Service would not verify Social Security numbers and income. In previous shutdowns, this created a backlog of loan approvals.
  • Food inspections: The Food and Drug Administration delayed inspections during shutdowns.
  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance: Benefits were paid while carryover money was available in state and federal accounts.
  • Border: Customs and border agents worked at crossings and ports of entry during previous shutdowns.

Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Congressional Research Service, USA TODAY

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