How will a government shutdown affect you?

If the government shuts down on September 30, what functions will be affected?

If Congress doesn't reach a compromise with President Obama by midnight Sept. 30, the government will run out of money. Who will be affected and how?

As Republicans, Democrats and the White House quarrel about the Affordable Care Act's Oct. 1 debut ("Obamacare"), they're also mired in another imbroglio: The age-old problem of funding the government.

On Saturday, all warring parties inched closer to an impasse that would shut down the government at midnight on Sept. 30 when the last stopgap budget extension expires (it was agreed upon in March). President Barack Obama can order agencies to work for a few more hours if lawmakers are close to a deal when it hits midnight. The Senate returned a government funding bill to the House Friday but without a provision to defund Obama's health care law that conservatives in the House say they have to have before they'll approve the bill.

While many programs could be paused and hundreds of thousands of federal employees could be furloughed in the event of a government shutdown, Washington also spends a tremendous amount of money preparing to close up shop. According to the Congressional Research Service, two closures that started in 1995 (one lasted into 1996) cost taxpayers $1.4 billion. They were the last two times our government has halted operations.

On Saturday, House Republicans voted to delay Obamacare for a year, remove a tax on medical devices and pay U.S. military troops.

Related: Public backs budget compromise

On top of a shutdown, lawmakers will also soon re-engage in debt ceiling debates for the second time in three years. By mid-October, the United States will have exhausted emergency spending options and will be left with only about $50 billion to pay its bills. To put that into context, President Obama's proposed budget leaves the country with a $744 billion deficit next year. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned last week that if Congress does not vote to raise the debt ceiling, the country would be in danger of defaulting on its bills.

But first things first. Here's what might happen if the government does shut down:


  • While Postal Service employees are federal workers, the Post Office's budget is not funded by the United States Treasury, meaning the bureau is largely unaffected by shutdowns.


  • Because post offices are up and running, Social Security checks are still sent out and doctors receive Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.
  • But if the shutdown extends beyond a few days, fewer federal employees will be available to handle government affairs, meaning many program disbursements will crawl to a standstill.


  • In the event of a shutdown, federal employees are designated as either "essential" or "non-essential" workers.
  • Essential workers, the approximate one-third of the federal work force who "provide for the national security" or for the "safety of life and property," such as Congress, the president, Defense Department officials, Transportation Safety Administration workers, food inspectors, air traffic controllers, uniformed military personnel, border patrol agents and others, will continue work and be paid when the government reopens. The remaining federal employees are furloughed with no guarantee of retroactive pay, though in the past they were compensated when the government re-opened.
  • In 2011, when the nation faced a similar threat, the White House predicted that 800,000 of 2.1 million non-postal federal workers would be sent home.


  • Obamacare, the GOP's bargaining chip in the government shutdown debate, will not be affected if the system slogs; its funds aren't tied into the congressional budget.


  • During a shutdown, all national parks, museums and monuments must remain closed. In 1995, some 368 attractions were temporarily shuttered, resulting in a loss of over 9 million visitors and approximately $14.2 million.


  • Also during the last shutdown in 1995, 20,000-30,000 visa applications went unprocessed each day, as did 200,000 U.S. passport applications for the period, deeply impacting the tourism and travel sectors of the economy.


  • Supreme Court justices and federal judges will receive paychecks no matter how long the shutdown lasts, but if it carries on for more than 10 days, federal courts will handle only "essential" work and many judicial workers will not be paid on time.


  • While the TSA and National Security Agency would likely remain open, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would likely close its door as flu season begins.


  • Some tax investigations may take a break, but collection will not.


  • The government will also continue to issue bonds. If you want a federal loan, though. you'll have to wait. Those won't be available if the government shuts down.


  • Federal gun permits also are not processed during a shutdown.

Related: Furloughs nothing new to federal workers


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