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Government Shutdown

Be prepared if there's no agreement on the budget

Q: What happens to Medicare?
A: New applicants had to wait in 1995-96. There should be no immediate impact on enrollees' medical services, health care experts say, though the reimbursement to doctors and hospitals could slow down if the contractors who process claims are deemed inessential. Still, doctors and hospitals aren't paid every day, so unless a shutdown continued for weeks, the effects are likely to be minimal.

File your tax return electronically, if possible, because those returns are processed automatically and refunds wouldn't be delayed.

Q: Will federal tax collection and refunds be delayed?
A: First, the filing deadline: your tax-return due date will remain April 18 no matter what, says IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. File electronically, if possible, because those returns are processed automatically and refunds wouldn't be delayed. There could be delays in processing paper returns and providing refunds for paper returns.

Federal borrowing and tax collection are considered essential services and continued during the last shutdowns — and those closures didn't even come during tax-filing season, when a substantial portion of tax receipts reach the IRS. It's hard to imagine that the federal government would ever delay cashing checks from taxpayers.

Q: How would veterans' benefits be affected?
A: Veterans Affairs services were curtailed in 1995-96. VA hospitals did not close; medical inpatient care and outpatient emergency care are considered critical services. But other services for veterans were cut back, and some benefit checks were reportedly delayed.

Q: What would happen to "meals on wheels" programs?
A: "A shutdown doesn't mean the money's all going to dry up immediately," says Peggy Ingraham, senior vice president for public policy with the Meals on Wheels Association of America. "But if it goes on for any length of time, absolutely, it's going to cause severe stress. These programs are already stressed."

Q: Would post offices close?
A: No, the postal service is self-funded and would continue to operate.

Q: What government facilities would close?
A: National parks, museums and monuments are very likely to lock their doors. In 1995-96, 368 national park sites closed, causing the loss of an estimated 7 million visitors. Museums and monuments lost another 2 million visitors. If you've reserved a campsite at a national park for a vacation, you could find it unavailable. Check ahead online or with a phone call.

Q: What about passport applications?
A: About 200,000 U.S. passport applications went unprocessed by the State Department during the 1995-96 shutdown, along with 30,000 visa requests from foreigners each day.

Q: Will Congress shut down?
A: No, Congress considers itself essential, and the law seems to agree. Members of Congress and the president are paid by mandatory spending that is required by statute — not through the appropriations bills that fund the government and pay federal workers.

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