Hitting Close to Home: What Happens if the Federal Government Partially Shuts Down?

If federal lawmakers do not come to a budget agreement by deadline, some questions you need to ask.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers will–eventually–make a budget deal. But what could happen in the meantime? To judge by the last time, when the government closed down in 1995-1996: essential work goes on, but "non-essential" does not. Since that overview is a little ambiguous, Patch explored possible impact on what you might need or want to do after the midnight Friday deadline.

Q: Will my Congressmember's office be open and taking phone calls or emails to let them know how I feel about this?

A: Still to be determined, but probably not. According to U.S. Sen. John Kerry's press secretary Whitney Smith, if the government shuts down, the question remains as to which staffers are considered "essential" and "non-essential;" Smith says there is a penalty fine for "non-essential" employees volunteering to continue working for no pay. Kerry's Massachusetts offices would most likely have voicemail turned on and emails would be forwarded to the Washington office, Smith said, from which emergency constituent services would be handled.

Q: The IRS: does this change my income tax-filing deadline?

A: According to USA Today, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman told reporters at the National Press Club Wednesday that refunds could be delayed for taxpayers who file hard copy paper tax returns. But he apparently said electronically filed returns would be unaffected. He also reportedly said a shutdown of whatever length does not change the income tax deadline, which this year is April 18.

Q: My Social Security check?

A: According to About.com, last time the government shut down, current payments were unaffected, but new claims went unprocessed.

Q: How about Amtrak? I'm booked on the Acela to New York this weekend.

A: According to USA Today, despite Amtrak's $1.5 billion federal subsidy, CEO Joe Boardman told employees in a newsletter last month that it can rely on ticket revenue alone to keep going -- at least in the short haul.

Q: And the post office: will I get my mail?

A: It appears that yes is the answer: Patch found no reports of the U.S. Postal Service not delivering mail in previous government closures.

Q: Passports and visas?

A: You will still be able to pick up a passport application at your ; the processing of said application is less certain. According to AOL News, last time, some 200,000 U.S. passport applications went unprocessed during the shutdowns and between 20-30,000 foreign visa applications went unprocessed. So sounds like a delay is possible. But to judge by how things were handled the last time, post offices will remain open.

Q: I'm thinking of enlisting, and had planned to visit a military recruiting office over the next few days. Will it be open?

A: Most likely. A call to the Army recruiting center in Waltham was passed along to a spokesman for Army recruiting in New England, James Allard. He said they have not received instructions from Washington, but they still might.  However, he said it was highly likely stations would stay open because they are staffed by active-duty people not affected by earlier government closures.

Q: What about Patriot's Day events planned for national parks on Monday, April 20–will they be cancelled?

A: . Organizers working on in case of closure.

Q: How long might this last?

A: About.com listed five government shutdowns since 1981, ranging from less than 24-hours (1981) to five months (November, 1995 to April, 1996.)

Christine Smith April 08, 2011 at 03:53 PM
For those who work for the federal government (and there are plenty here in Canton), it means they will be out of work and will not get paid.


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