10 ways the government shutdown will impact your daily life

October 1, 2013

A protester sends a message to lawmakers outside the U.S. Capitol.
(Melina Mara / The Washington Post)

Congress’ failure to reach a compromise on government funding last night means a number of federal agencies will close their doors for the indefinite future. That augurs big and costly consequences for federal workers. But it also impacts everyone who uses services administered or funded by the federal government -- which is to say, just about everyone. Here’s a quick guide to how the shutdown could impact you even if you're not a federal worker.

1) You may not receive certain government benefits, particularly if the shutdown lasts late into October, or you’ll see a delay in benefits. Several government agencies will stop distributing funds to programs that help needy families, including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and rental assistance programs sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Beneficiaries won’t feel the impact right away, since most agencies have enough funds to shore up these programs for a couple more weeks, and states have the option to pick up the tab. That’s not the case for veterans, however, who will not receive education or rehabilitation benefits, and might face significant delays when filing for disability claims.

2) There could be delays processing your Pell Grant and student loan payments. The Department of Education is still processing Pell Grants and Federal Direct Loans, and has said that staff associated with those major loan programs will not be furloughed. Still, the agency has sent home 95 percent of its full-time workforce. That makes at least some delay probable, and hits to other aid programs almost definite: Inside Higher Ed reports, for instance, that employees supporting Federal Work-Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants will all be furloughed.

3) Your passport or visa office might close. While the State Department will technically continue issuing passports and visas during the shutdown, a number of passport offices are located in closed federal buildings.

4) You’ll eat food that was produced in neglected factories. The Food and Drug Administration is shuttering the majority of its food-safety oversight operation, which means facilities that mass-produce foods --  from prune juice to pickles -- will not receive their routine inspections. The FDA will still handle high-risk recalls and monitor programs that are funded by the industry, while the Department of Agriculture will inspect things like meat and poultry. But that still leaves room for serious lapses on other kinds of food, especially if the shutdown lasts more than two days. That could prompt the USDA to furlough its food safety employees.

5) You won’t be able to visit national parks or drive on roads that cut through them. The Department of the Interior has closed its 401 parks, monuments and other public spaces across the country. That will inconvenience not only vacationers, but people who own businesses on the parks or commute through them.

6) You won’t be able to use some government Web sites or Twitter accounts. A number of government sites have gone dark since their staffs went home for the shutdown. These include accounts that share important regional news, like @USCapitol, as well as the sites for the National Park Service and NASA. Many more agency Web sites ran a disclaimer that "due to the government shutdown, information on this website may not be up to date."

7) You won’t know if the flu is brewing in your area. The Centers for Disease Control will not monitor seasonal flu activity this year and won’t conduct cross-state investigations to link outbreaks of diseases like hepatitis A or salmonella, the Wall Street Journal reports. That’s important because those types of CDC investigations have helped link outbreaks to specific foods and other contaminants in the past. And the flu program determines how vaccine programs around the country allocate their resources.

8) You won’t be able to ask the IRS for help with your taxes. The Internal Revenue Service is furloughing nearly 90 percent of its workforce, which means its helpline for taxpayers is going offline. There’s a silver lining, though: the IRS also won’t conduct audits during the shutdown.

9) You won't be able to get certain types of loans. The Small Business Administration will not approve or process new loan applications for most of its lending programs during the shutdown, which will impact small business-owners and entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, prospective homeowners should expect lengthy delays on any loan applications processed through the Federal Housing Administration. While the FHA will continue to process mortgages, it will do so with only a skeleton crew.

10) You won’t be able to watch the Panda Cam. The National Zoo is closed, and so is its popular live video feed of Mei Xiang and her cub. Fortunately our friends at The Switch have rounded up a number of animal cam alternatives.

Of course, there are many critical government services that will not be impacted by the shutdown. Those include the Postal Service, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known as food stamps) ... and, ironically, the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect today and kicked off this whole shutdown mess to begin with.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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