Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary
Columnist

Your money and the looming government shutdown

Even if you aren’t a federal government worker, the pending government shutdown may affect you.

As you probably know, the budget showdown is really about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Republicans want to defund the health care law and are using the funding of the federal government itself as a tactic to get what they want.

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Congress must act by Monday night to avoid having most agencies close on Tuesday, reports The Washington Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb.

If a deal isn’t reached by then, large functions of the U.S. government could shut down Oct. 1.

Let’s Start With Employees.

The shutdown would affect the paychecks of more than 800,000 federal employees and the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans, reports Lisa Rein of The Washington Post.

Nonessential federal government employees could be forced to stay home. And, depending on when the shutdown ends, they could have to wait even longer to get paid.

“While there is no law requiring that nonessential employees be compensated if they are ordered off the job, Congress has in the past voted to reimburse their losses once shutdowns ended,” Rein writes.

But this time it could be different, Rein says. “The bitterly divided Congress includes many lawmakers who are unsympathetic to the plight of federal workers and could be loath to help them recoup their money.”

Essential employees would not receive pay during the shutdown but would receive retroactive pay afterward, reports Brad Plumer of The Post’s Wonkblog.

Plumer explains everything you need to know about how a government shutdown works, and The Post’s Eric Yoder reports on the affect of a shutdown on federal workers pay and benefits.

Here’s How a Shutdown May Affect You

David Simpson and Saeed Ahmed of CNN report on how a shutdown would affect your daily life even if you aren’t a federal worker.

-- Social Security. If you receive Social Security, don’t fret. During the shutdown, social security payments will still be processed and mailed.

-- Veteran Services. The majority of veteran services will not be affected, according to the New York Times blog At War. Veterans will continue to receive disability checks without interruption, writes blogger James Dao, but Department of Veterans Affairs services such as recruiting and hiring will be suspended.

-- Tourism: Want to check out a national park? Or museum? Well, you can’t. The shutdown would force 368 National Park Service sites to be closed, reports CNN.

We can look to past government shutdowns to see how they played out. According to Brad Plumer, examples were detailed in a recent Congressional Research Service report. In past shutdowns:

-- The federal government stopped work on about 3,500 bankruptcy cases, as well as a number of child-support cases.

-- The Border Patrol put a hold on hiring 400 new agents.

-- Certain financial regulators shut down, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Although corporations can still file documents such as 10Ks through automated systems, there’s no one around to review the filings.

-- During the last shutdown, the Social Security Administration was able to keep enough employees to make sure the checks kept going out. But the agency didn’t have enough staff to do things like answer phone calls or help recipients who needed to change addresses. So some disruptions are possible.

-- Although some key benefits continued and the Veterans Affairs hospitals remained open, “multiple services were curtailed, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel.”

Color of Money Question of the Week

Even if the federal shutdown is avoided, how do you feel about the use of this strategy to protest the Affordable Care Act? Send your response to colorofmoney@washpost.com, and include your full name, city and state. Put “The looming government shutdown” in the subject line.

Live Chat on Friday

Join me on Friday at 11 a.m. Eastern (a day later and an hour earlier then usual) to talk about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. I’ll be available to answer your personal finance questions, but the focus of the chat will be health care reform. Joining me as my guest will be Don Silver, author of “The Best Guide ObamaCare Guide: For You, Your Family and Your Business.” The book was the Color of Money Book Club pick for September.

Here’s a review of Silver’s book, which is only available electronically.

If you can’t join me live for the text chat, send in questions early.

Obamacare staying on track

Even with the possible closing of the federal government, millions of uninsured Americans will still be able to enroll for health insurance starting Oct.1, reports Heidi Przybyla and Alex Wayne of Bloomberg.

Obamacare is a budgetary category, which is considered mandatory spending, the same as it is for the budget category for Medicare and Social Security. So, congressional inaction can’t stop it, write Przybyla and Wayne.

“If some Republicans succeed in shutting down the government, opponents of the health-care law can’t rely on a closure to impede the ability of new insurance exchanges to link with other agencies,” they report. “The exchanges must connect to computers at other federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Homeland Security Department, in order to determine whether potential customers are eligible for coverage and for subsidies to help pay their premiums. Those connections probably wouldn’t be jeopardized by a shutdown.”

Showdown to Shutdown Obamacare

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “What are your thoughts on the Affordable Care Act?”

“Obamacare isn’t perfect,” wrote Kerry Kleiber of West Lafayette, Ind. “However, it is a step. If the Republicans would simply try to find ways to improve it, rather than ‘defund’ it, they and the rest of the nation would be better off.”

Christie Newman posted on Facebook: “I’ve attended informational meetings and listened to NPR programs where the FACTS are given, and anybody with half a brain should be supporting Obama Care with vigor! The only people in Congress who are against it are those who are working for the insurance companies.”

Donna R. Jefferson, a small-business owner in Annapolis, wrote on Facebook that insurers must be worried about competition from the new exchanges. Shewrote: “Our current insurer sent us the new rates for our next renewal, which is 6 months from now, and the new rates went up only minimally as opposed to the 20-25% that usually occurs. So the competition among providers and the state exchanges created due to the Affordable Care Act has been effective at keeping price increases in check. Not to mention the elimination of pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny coverage.”

On Facebook, Amber Dru of Xenia, Ohio, wrote: “I don’t see young people buying health insurance even with the threat of fines. . . When they realize what the government thinks they should be able to pay it’s going to get ugly.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.

 
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