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Q&A: What would a federal shutdown mean?

With budget talks continuing in Washington to avert a shutdown of the federal government, many people have questions about what would happen if no agreement can be reached.

April 06, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau
  • Robert Reich was Labor secretary under President Clinton the last time the federal government shut down, in 1996. He held a news conference at the time surrounded by boxes of unanswered Labor Department mail.
Robert Reich was Labor secretary under President Clinton the last time… (Denis Paquin / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — If budget talks in Washington fail and the federal government is forced to shut down this week, Office of Management and Budget officials report that a broad spectrum of services would be affected. Other services deemed important to public safety would continue.

Question: How would a shutdown affect the Internal Revenue Service?

Answer: Processing of refunds for paper-filed returns would be suspended, as would tax audits. The deadline for filing tax returns &mdash this year April 18 &mdash would not be affected.

Q: I'm applying for a small-business loan through the government. Should I expect delays?

A: In the event of a federal shutdown, the Small Business Administration would not approve applications for business loan guarantees, and direct loans to small businesses would cease.

Q: What about loans through the Federal Housing Administration?

A: The FHA would not be able to guarantee new home loans.

Q: I was planning a trip to a national park. Should I make other plans?

A: All national parks and many monuments would be closed, including the museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution. The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade could be canceled, though other activities would continue this weekend.

Q: I need help from the Veterans Affairs Department. Will that remain open?

A: Although the VA was largely closed in 1995-96 shutdowns, department offices would remain open now because of a multi-year appropriation.

Q: What about the Environmental Protection Agency?

A: The EPA would cease permitting. Review of environmental impact statements would stop, slowing approval of energy and transportation projects.

Q: I rely on Social Security. Should I be concerned?

A: Beneficiaries would continue to get benefits unless a shutdown extended for months.

Q: How would Medicare be affected?

A: The federal insurance program for the elderly would be viable, at least for a short period.

Q: I serve in the armed forces. Will I still get paid?

A: Military personnel would continue to earn money but would not receive paychecks until Congress appropriated the money. They would be paid through April 8.

Q: What would happen to Congress and the courts?

A: They have their own shutdown plans and guidelines.

Q: How many federal employees would be furloughed?

A: The specific number is not known, but it would probably be in the vicinity of 800,000 people.

Q: What about federal activities to protect the public?

A: Employees or agencies deemed "necessary for safety of life or protection of property" would remain on the job. For example, air traffic control, food inspection, border surveillance and inspection of nuclear power plants would continue. The federal school lunch program would continue.

Source: Office of Management and Budget

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