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Federal shutdown: Frequently asked questions

A federal shutdown means different things to different people. Here are answers to some basic questions about how a shutdown would affect federal workers, taxpayers, tourists and Washingtonians.
An updated, more expanded list of questions and answers is available on the Federal Eye blog.


Will federal workers get paid if there’s a shutdown?

Unclear. In the past, federal workers who were idled during a shutdown were eventually paid their salaries once the government reopened. But this time, public employee unions are concerned that their members will not receive pay for the shutdown, period.

I am a federal worker. If I work during the shutdown, what happens?

During a shutdown, you may not work without pay or volunteer to work if you are deemed “nonessential,” nor can you take paid vacation time. If you are considered “essential,” you will be paid once Congress passes, and the president signs, a new appropriation or continuing resolution, according to the administration.

Will members of the military get paid?

If the current funding expires on Friday, in the middle of the military’s two-week pay period, the Defense Department would distribute paychecks for the first week, according to Pentagon officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. To avoid such disruption, House Republicans introduced legislation that would pay troops if a deal isn’t reached. Congressional aides couldn’t say whether such a bill would pass either chamber before Friday.

Will government contractors get paid?

It depends. Veterans of previous shutdowns are reminding contractors that they could be locked out of their offices or forced to stop government-funded travel. During a shutdown, experts suggest contracting firms should ask employees to complete overdue training programs, take vacations or temporarily reassign them to other projects. Some firms may need to furlough employees.


Would the mail get delivered and will post offices be open?

Yes. The U.S. Postal Service is self-funded; it will not be affected by a federal shutdown.

How long will the shutdown last?

As little as a few hours or as long as a few weeks. Shutdowns in the 1970s and 1980s ranged from three days to 17 days, according to the Congressional Research Service. The most recent shutdown stretched 21 days, from mid-December 1995 to early January 1996 — the longest in modern history.

Will my Social Security payments continue?

As of Wednesday, the Social Security Administration is still finalizing plans, but current recipients would continue receiving their benefits, according to a senior administration official.

What about Medicare and Medicaid and billings to hospitals?

Medicare would be funded for at least a short period of time, according to a senior administration official.

Do I still need to file my tax returns?

Yes. Your tax returns must be filed by this year’s April 18 deadline in order to avoid a penalty for filing late. But officials familiar with plans warned privately that the IRS would not process refunds during a shutdown for tax returns that are filed on paper.

What will happen to federal home loan guarantees?

The Federal Housing Administration would withhold guarantees for home loans.


Would the museums and federal attractions be open?

All federal properties, including the National Archives, the monuments and memorials, and the Smithsonian museums would be closed. About 500,000 visitors could be turned away this weekend alone from the National Zoo and the major Smithsonian museums on the Mall, according to Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. Private museums such as the Newseum, the Phillips Collection and Corcoran Gallery of Art will remain open.

What about the Cherry Blossom Parade?

Unclear. Organizers of Saturday’s National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade along Constitution Avenue — which is land controlled by the National Park Service — are scrambling to come up with a contingency plan. A federal budget official said Wednesday that a government shutdown would force cancellation of the parade. Thirteen marching bands from around the country are scheduled to perform in the annual parade.


Would local municipal services be affected?

Yes. Trash collection and street sweeping in the District would be suspended and D.C. libraries and Department of Motor Vehicles offices would close unless Congress acts to provide the federal funding needed for those operations.

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Have other questions? The Federal Eye has more answers to common concerns.

— Lyndsey Layton

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