Much of the government is getting close to shutting down Oct. 1 as Congress struggles to pass a stopgap funding deal — and on Monday, with just five days to go, many federal workers and agencies were bracing for impact.
The House and Senate have until the end of the day on Saturday, Sept. 30 to pass a spending deal. Little progress was made over the weekend, and with Congress not returning until Tuesday evening after being off for the Yom Kippur holiday, there’s so little time left a shutdown is being seen as almost inevitable.
In anticipation of that, the Office of Management and Budget has advised federal agencies to review and update their shutdown plans. OMB will tell agencies to enact those shutdown plans, including notifying employees whether they have been furloughed or should continue to report to work on Oct. 1.
As many as 4 million workers could lose pay as a result of a shutdown — about half of whom are military troops and personnel. While essential workers will remain on the job without pay, others will be furloughed.
All government employees would get back pay once the shutdown ends; federal contractors who are impacted by the shutdown would not.
If a shutdown occurs, the first possible missed or incomplete paycheck would be on Oct. 13 for many workers.
Several agencies have already updated their plans for how to proceed if the government shuts down. If Congress does not avert a shutdown by Sept. 30, Americans will likely feel it — anywhere from travel, to drinking water to workplace inspections.
Air travelers could see “significant delays and longer wait times for travelers at airports across the country like there were during previous shutdowns,” the White House said.
The shortage of air traffic controllers could get worse under a shutdown, said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He said last week that a government shutdown would “stop us in our tracks” as the Federal Aviation Administration works to train new controllers.
During a shutdown, TSA will remain operable, with most of its workforce — nearly 56,000 employees — required to work without pay.
Certain passport offices — particularly those located inside federal buildings — could close during a government shutdown, potentially worsening a major backlog.
Also, it may not be the ideal time to visit a national park. Many of them face closures — that is, unless governors use state money to keep them open. Some national parks may remain open, but visitor facilities such as restrooms, visitor centers, information kiosks, and ranger talks will be closed, according to the National Park Service.
The travel sector could lose roughly $140 million each day in a shutdown, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Public health and safety
Safe drinking water could be at risk during a government shutdown because routine inspections will be halted, according to the White House. The Environmental Protection Agency would stop most inspections at hazardous waste sites as well as drinking water and chemical facilities. Also, the EPA would pause plans and permit reviews that ensure safe water and clean air standards are met.
The Food and Drug Administration “could be forced to delay food safety inspections for a wide variety of products all across the country,” the White House said.
Workplace inspections would face cutbacks because of limitations with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Department of Labor, according to the White House.
An upcoming shutdown could delay new clinical trials for cancer and other research, the White House added.
Services for women and children
Up to 10,000 children could lose access to Head Start, the federal program for preschool children from low-income families, in a shutdown.
Also, a $150 million contingency fund for a program that helps feed 7 million women, infants and children (WIC) would likely dry up within a few days. The program, which costs about $500 million per month, would then be left up to the states to keep it running.
Speaking at the White House press briefing Monday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack warned of the “real consequences to real people when there is a shutdown.”
“…The vast majority of WIC participants would see an immediate reduction and elimination of those benefits, which means the nutrition assistance provided would not be available,” Vilsack said.
What won’t be affected?
The vast majority of the government will actually carry on as usual during a government shutdown. That’s because only 27% of federal spending is considered “discretionary,” and requires annual approval from Congress. The other three-fourths of the government is considered “mandatory” and will continue as usual.
That includes Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments, which won’t be affected. Neither will the U.S. Postal Service, which uses its own revenue stream.
The military, law enforcement and other “excepted” workers would have to work in a government shutdown.
The president and members of Congress will work and get paid during a shutdown. However, lawmakers’ staffers will not get paid.
Approved funding as well as funds from court fees could keep the judiciary running — at least for a limited time.