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Government Shutdown

Be prepared if there's no agreement on the budget

En español | The likelihood of a government shutdown increases with every hour that passes without agreement on the federal budget.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on a balance of spending cuts and policy provisions that would keep the government running through September.

House Republicans continue to press for a stopgap spending bill that would fund the government for one more week, but would require $12 billion in cuts now as well as a ban on government funding for abortions in the District of Columbia. The White House on Thursday again rejected such a measure and insisted that Congress pass a budget for the rest of the fiscal year.

And so the impasse persists.

Here's what a shutdown could mean to you, based on government watchers and on what happened in previous government closures (PDF).

Q: What's the earliest possible date for a shutdown?
A: Saturday, April 9. If, before then, the Obama administration and Congress reach a deal to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2011, services won't be suspended. If they strike another short-term agreement, a shutdown may simply be delayed a couple of weeks.

Q: How long might a shutdown last?
A: The 15 shutdowns that have occurred since fiscal year 1977 ranged from three days to 21 days.

Q: Would the entire federal government close?
A: Not all of it. By law, essential government services relating to public safety and national security must continue. This means that the military, air traffic controllers, the Border Patrol, the FBI, prison guards and many other U.S. government employees remain on duty.

But many facilities will close and many services would be unavailable. In a five-day shutdown in 1995, 800,000 federal employees were told not to report to work. Several weeks later, 240,000 employees were furloughed in a 21-day shutdown.

The US Capitol Dome at night in Washington DC.

— Photoillustration: Capitol by Getty Images

Q: Would Social Security benefit payments stop coming?
A: This did not happen during previous government shutdowns, so most analysts consider that highly unlikely. Social Security benefits are paid out of the program's trust fund, and don't depend on an annual congressional spending bill. They should be safe. During the 21-day shutdown in 1995-96, the staff necessary to pay existing benefits was considered essential and stayed on the job.

Q: Would there be any disruption to Social Security?
A: Possibly. During the 1995-96 government shutdown, the Social Security Administration stopped processing new applications for benefits, although as the shutdown dragged on, the agency eventually brought in more employees and renewed the process.

It could also be harder to get questions answered and problems dealt with. If you have a question or an issue, inquire without delay.

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