As the impasse continues in Washington, a government shutdown looks increasingly likely before Saturday evening’s deadline.
While the Senate is moving forward with a bipartisan approach aimed at keeping the government open, spending measures are still struggling to pass the Republican-controlled House. If there is a shutdown, millions of federal employees will be laid off and many others — including those who work in the military and the Transportation Security Administration — will be forced to work without pay until it ends.
A handful of federal programs that people across the country rely on every day could also be disrupted — from dwindling funding for food assistance to potential delays in customer service for Medicare and Social Security recipients. The ripple effects would come down to how long a shutdown lasts and the different contingency plans in place at the affected agencies.
“Collectively, hundreds of millions of Americans, a majority of the population, receive some form of government benefits,” said Forrest V. Morgeson III, an associate professor at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business. He noted that a possible closure could bring significant financial uncertainty and economic consequences.
Here’s what you need to know. Will SNAP be affected by a government shutdown? What about WIC?
A government shutdown could jeopardize millions of Americans’ access to food and nutrition assistance programs – with consequences depending on how long the shutdown lasts and the emergency funds available for each program.
According to the Biden administration, nearly seven million women and children who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would be at risk of losing assistance almost immediately as a result of a shutdown. That’s because the federal emergency fund that supports normal WIC operations will likely run out within days, prompting states to rely on their own money or transfer funds.
Families receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program may also lose their assistance if a shutdown lasts longer. According to the Department of Agriculture, regardless of what happens in Washington this weekend, households will receive SNAP assistance as usual through October.
Affected families “go to food banks,” says Dr. Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “These are people who need help. These are mothers. These are infants. So this is a real problem.” What about Head Start programs and free school lunch?
Head Start programs serving more than 10,000 disadvantaged children would immediately lose federal funding, although they could avoid an immediate shutdown if the shutdown does not last long.
These ten programs, located in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, serve only a fraction of the 820,000 children enrolled in the program at any given time.
Tommy Sheridan, the deputy director of the National Head Start Association, said the programs are in trouble because their grants start Oct. 1. Programs with grants that do not begin on that date will continue to receive funding. But if the shutdown continues, the number of affected programs will increase as more grants come up for renewal.
In addition to Head Start, concerns have also arisen about free school meals for low-income children. But the Department of Agriculture says it does not expect any immediate problems with federal child nutrition programs, including school meals, because support for these programs is provided in part by a permanent and mandatory funding authority.
In the event of a government shutdown, state and federal child nutrition operations will continue through October and possibly for several months beyond, the department said. But the department would not be able to support these programs year-round without appropriations. Will I continue to receive Social Security checks?
Regardless of what happens in Washington this weekend, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients will continue to receive payments. But response times for people with problems may be delayed due to furloughs.
“If you have a question about Social Security, you may not be able to find anyone to answer your questions,” Nielsen said. “But the daily transactions of sending checks will still continue.”
According to a recent Social Security Administration contingency plan, the agency will stop non-critical actions and actions “not directly related to the accurate and timely payment of benefits.” The issuance of new Social Security cards and replacements will continue. Would a shutdown affect Medicare and Medicaid?
The benefits of Medicare and Medicaid also remain – as both are mandatory programs funded separately from annual appropriations. That means patients should still be able to see their doctors and have their medical bills paid.
But as with Social Security, there may be delays and disruptions to customer service due to furloughs. About half of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will be laid off when the appropriations expire, according to unforeseen details released last week by the Health and Human Services Department. What consequences can flights and other travel have?
The country’s air transportation system is expected to operate relatively normally during a shutdown. Air traffic controllers and TSA screeners are considered essential workers, but those people won’t get paid until the shutdown ends, and TSA lines could get longer if enough screeners stay home.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday that air travel will remain safe during a shutdown, but training for new air traffic controllers will stop and 1,000 trainees will be furloughed.
Long before this week’s deadline, airlines were already complaining that a shortage of air traffic controllers was causing flight delays and cancellations. The Federal Aviation Administration said in August that it had hired 1,500 new controllers last year and asked Congress for money to hire another 1,800 in the new fiscal year.
Processing of passports and visas will be halted “if the situation allows”, according to guidelines issued to employees by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week. The department said consulates in the U.S. and abroad will say open “as long as there are sufficient reimbursements to support operations,” but passport work could stop if the building where the work is done is closed.
The time it takes to get a passport or visa is already much longer than before the pandemic. Most Customs and Border Protection agents are also considered essential and are expected to work at airports and border crossings. Could there be student loan disruptions?
If the spending measures aren’t passed before Saturday’s deadline, the government shutdown would take effect the same day student loans come out of the pandemic pause, after they started accruing interest again on September 1.
But, shutdown or not, borrowers’ payments will still be due. For the most part, loan servicers will be able to continue processing payments regularly, but there may be delays for those who need to consult the Department of Education or seek assistance due to the potential of agency furloughs.
Students applying for federal aid during a shutdown can expect similar delays as a result. For example, officials have pointed to potential disruptions in processing FAFSA applications, disbursing Pell Grants and pursuing federal loan forgiveness. Would postal services become slower?
The United States Postal Service will not be affected by a government shutdown. The Postal Service is not dependent on taxpayer money because they typically obtain their funding through the sale of products and services.