SHUTDOWN Q&A: Finding your way through the federal shutdown
By Brian Knowlton and Andrew Siddons
The New York Times
Print This | Email This
Snow causes schools to operate on 2-hour delay; Queen of Angels canceled -- 12/20/13 -10:08 AM
Today's PDN Page 1. Read faster. Absorb more -- 12/19/13 -11:10 PM
Merry Christmas! Holiday lights set Peninsula ablaze (Photo Gallery) -- 12/19/13 -11:02 PM
PENINSULA HOME FUND: A hand up to a mother and her son -- 12/17/13 -11:11 PM
Here are some questions and answers about its specific and practical effects:
Q: An estimated 800,000 federal government workers — mainly those whose jobs are deemed nonessential to public health, safety and the protection of property — are furloughed. Will they eventually be paid? What about benefits and accrued seniority?
A: After past shutdowns, most furloughed workers have been paid. But that requires congressional action. Their benefits and seniority will continue to accrue no matter what, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Q: Will Social Security and Medicare benefits continue for everyday Americans?
A: Yes. Benefit applications can still be filed online or in field offices, and appeals and payments will be processed; only 18,000 of the Social Security Administration's 62,000 workers are being furloughed. But some activities will be discontinued, like the processing of requests for replacement Social Security or Medicare cards.
Q: Is the rollout of the Affordable Care Act affected?
A: President Barack Obama answered this question Tuesday, saying that “because of its funding sources, it's not impacted.” The shutdown affects governmental activities that are subject to year-to-year financing, not mandated programs like the new health care program.
Q: Will my family members or I continue to receive veterans' benefits?
A: According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, all VA medical facilities will remain open and continue to operate normally. But funds for the processing and payments of claims for pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are expected to run out late this month.
Q: Has the Federal Reserve's check-clearing service been shut down? How might that affect me?
A: No. The Federal Reserve is an independent, self-financing agency. All of its operations will continue normally. Federal Reserve Banks will continue to process checks and provide a mechanism for checks and funds to move between banks.
Q: I received a tax-filing deferral, and my taxes are now due Oct. 15. How will I be affected?
A: The Oct. 15 deadline remains in effect; the Internal Revenue Service is requesting that taxpayers continue to file their taxes normally. But both walk-in and telephone centers for taxpayer assistance will be closed. Electronic returns will be processed automatically, but paper returns — and refunds — will be delayed. Just 9 percent of IRS employees have been deemed essential.
Q: Can an agency ignore the shutdown, or can employees decide to work voluntarily?
A: Not legally. A 19th-century law called the Antideficiency Act prohibits federal agencies from spending more money than they have been allocated. Nor are employees allowed to go to work on their own. “Accepting voluntary services for the United States” is prohibited, according to the Government Accountability Office, with violators subject to penalties ranging from loss of pay to imprisonment.
Q: Could a shutdown actually help the country's deficit problem, since the government will save money by not paying salaries?
A: No. Contingency planning costs money; the government loses fees and charges that go uncollected; and, to judge by history, furloughed workers eventually will receive their back pay. The Office of Management and Budget has estimated that the 1995-96 shutdowns cost the government $1.4 billion, or more than $2 billion in today's dollars.
Q: I'm planning a trip abroad. Can I get a passport?
A: Yes. The State Department's passport and visa operations will continue. The Bureau of Consular Affairs, which processes passport applications and issues visas to foreign visitors, is financed by fees. However, some passport offices are in federal buildings that may be closed. Check first.
Q: I'm taking my family on a vacation trip to Washington, D.C. What museums and points of interest will be open? What can we see or do?
A: In general, all federally financed museums, parks and monuments will be closed, including the Smithsonian museums, the Holocaust Museum and the National Zoo. Parts of a popular bike path from Maryland into Washington are closed, because they are in federal parkland. But many private museums will stay open. They include the National Geographic Museum, the Newseum, the International Spy Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection, as well as George Washington's homestead in Mount Vernon, Va.
Last modified: October 02. 2013 7:11PM