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Government shutdown 2021: What it might mean for you

September 27, 2021, 11:00 PM UTC

The clock is ticking in Washington D.C.

The federal budget for 2021 expires at the stroke of midnight on Sept. 30, and unless lawmakers can reach a compromise, as many as 850,000 Federal employees could be furloughed.

That last happened in 2019, when the government shut down for 35 days, costing the economy $11 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. A lot has happened since then, though, so you can be forgiven if you don’t quite remember what the effects of a shutdown are on your day-to-day life.

Here’s a quick reminder:

Will I still get my social security check if the government shuts down?

Yes. Social Security checks are still delivered in the event of a shutdown. And Medicare services will stay in operation for at least a limited time. However, if you need a new card issued, you’ll have to wait until the shutdown is over and any backlog is cleared.

The bigger threat is the debt ceiling. If Congress doesn’t suspend or raise the debt ceiling in the coming weeks, it will not be able to borrow to pay for operations, which could result in a delay for things like Social Security checks and food stamps. Janet Yellen, in an op-ed that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, said “nearly 50 million seniors could stop receiving Social Security checks for a time.”

Will a shutdown impact my child tax credit or tax refund?

A shutdown shouldn’t have a big impact on either of those payments. The Internal Revenue Service furloughs tens of thousands, but does not shut down. The best idea is to monitor the “Where’s My Refund” tool on the IRS Website.

That said, the debt ceiling could impact both of these. Yellen noted that “millions of families who rely on the monthly child tax credit could see delays” in her essay.

Another wild card? The IRS employees themselves. In the 2018-2019 shutdown, 14,000 opted not to show up for work without pay.

Will a government shutdown impact mail delivery?

The U.S. Postal Service is an independent agency. The shutdown will have no impact on it.

Can I visit national parks during a government shutdown?

This is a bit less clear, but during the government shutdown in January 2018, most national parks remained open, though visitor centers and sometimes bathrooms were not available (and trash piled up at many sites with no one to clean it). During the 2013 shutdown, however, millions of visitors were turned away from parks, national monuments, and other sites.

How will a government shutdown affect air travel?

If there’s any upside to the reduced travel of the pandemic, it’s that a government shutdown might be a bit less disruptive in airports. TSA officers and FAA air traffic controllers are deemed “essential” federal workers, so they continue to work (without pay) during a shutdown. Two years ago, though, hundreds of TSA employees called out sick, which made for tremendously long lines at security stations (in some cases, as much as 90 minutes).

Will a government shutdown impact the fight against COVID-19?

Government officials are warning a shutdown couldn’t come at a worse time.

“The worst time in the world we want to shut down the government is in the middle of a pandemic where we have 140,000 people a day getting infected and 2,000 people a day dying,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post last week. “That’s the time when you want the government working full blast to address this.”

Can I visit the Smithsonian and the National Zoo during a government shutdown?

The Smithsonian is already operating on a reduced schedule due to the pandemic, and insisting visitors utilize timed-entry passes. That’s manpower intense. While it has, in the past, used “prior year funds” to stay open during part of a shutdown, it’s unlikely to do so for any extended period if the government grinds to a halt this year.

While animals in the National Zoo will be cared for, visitors won’t be allowed in to see them. And other federal museums, such as the National Archives, will also be closed.

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