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(WASHINGTON) – A possible government shutdown looms as funding runs out late Thursday and Congress has yet to adopt a temporary measure to keep the government in business.
If we go through both the Senate and the House, it could be on President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature by Thursday.
But if Congress does not act, a government shutdown could begin as early as Friday.
If there is a government shutdown, does everything close?
No not all. A complete government shutdown would mean federal agencies would either close their doors or reduce their operations to what is deemed essential. Programs and agencies that receive mandatory funding or are self-sustaining, such as the US Postal Service, will continue to operate. Only programs and agencies that depend on annual appropriations will operate with empty pockets.
Essential services necessary for public safety such as air traffic control and law enforcement will continue to function, but not necessarily at the same levels.
If essential services continue, why should I care?
During a shutdown, agencies are stripped to the bone, providing only what is necessary to protect life and property or what is required by law. Agency services most directly connected to the public are likely to cease or be severely delayed, experiencing “enormous disruption and uncertainty” as they adjust to downsizing staff and operations, according to David Reich’s Non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
National parks and Smithsonian museums will close, and while people will still receive their Social Security payments, benefit verification, overpayment processing, and issuance of replacement Medicare cards will cease.
There could be delays in air travel with downsizing the Transportation Security Administration. If you have questions about your taxes, there will be no one on the other end of the phone at the Internal Revenue Service because they will not be continuing their customer service.
Will the CDC and the FDA shut down – even though we are in a pandemic?
No, but there could be delays. Among the agencies that typically see a reduction in their operations include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health. While these agencies are integral to the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine and the fight against the coronavirus, they will continue their pandemic-related functions at a greatly reduced capacity.
The Department of Health and Human Services, the umbrella agency for the CDC, the FDA and the NIH, will lay off 43% of its employees, according to its emergency shutdown plan. Agencies are responsible for creating their own plans for how they will continue to operate if money runs out.
Do we know for sure which services are going to stop?
Yes and no. Last week, the White House’s budget office, the Office of Budget and Management, reminded senior agency officials to review and update their closure plans. Some agencies have published their plans outlining what should continue and what will be put on hold.
But according to Maya MacGuineas, chair of the non-partisan think tank Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, it’s never clear until the shutdown which services will pass the absolutely necessary test.
“But one thing is for sure, a lot of people will go home and not do their jobs and that slows down the process of just about everything,” she said.
How many workers will be affected?
There are approximately 2.1 million federal civilian employees, according to the Congressional Research Service. During a shutdown, federal employees are either sent home or asked to work without pay.
For example, the Department of Defense plans to cut its civilian workforce by 55%, and the Environmental Protection Agency will lay off 99% of its employees.
For a small fraction of federal employees, their salaries are funded by funds other than appropriations.
Yet for the majority of the federal workforce, essential employees leaving recruiting agencies would be deprived of their paychecks.
Jacqueline Simon, director of public policy for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing more than 700,000 public servants, said that for many federal employees, the lack of a paycheck creates enormous hardship.
“They have rent to pay. They have mortgages to pay, insurance payments, car payments, child support, ”she said. “There is a myth that federal employees are all well paid professionals and that is simply not true. “
About a third of the employees represented by the union fall into the category of people who earn less than $ 40,000 a year and may not have the financial cushion to continue working without pay, Simon said.
Federal employees working during the shutdown get their wages back, but that won’t help them in the meantime.
Will a shutdown affect the economy?
A government shutdown usually doesn’t have a widespread impact on the economy, unless it hums for weeks. The 2018-19 partial shutdown under the Trump administration resulted in economic losses of $ 1.2 billion every week; it was the longest in the country’s history, lasting 35 days.
The longer the shutdown lasts, the more areas with a high number of federal employees could see their local economies start to suffer because those employees are not paid, according to Richard Kogan of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Government shutdowns create mistrust in how government works and uncertainty can impact the economy, MacGuineas said. The uncertainty is further compounded by whether Congress will pass an increase or a suspension of the debt ceiling so that the United States does not default on its obligations, which is a separate and much more serious problem of the closure.
ABC News’s Molly Nagle and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.
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