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Large parts of the federal government were shut down early Saturday morning after Congress failed to pass a funding bill to keep operations running. Nearly half the federal workforce could be furloughed, affecting an array of agencies and services that millions of older Americans rely on.
By law, essential government services affecting public safety and national security will continue without interruption. Here’s a look at which government operations are affected and how this shutdown could impact seniors and others:
Social Security: Payments to retirees, individuals with disabilities and other beneficiaries will not be affected by the shutdown. Potential furloughs of Social Security Administration employees could make it harder to get questions answered and problems solved.
Medicare: Beneficiaries will still be able to get health care services, although doctors and hospitals may have to wait to get paid. The Medicare call center will continue to operate but waits might be longer. The processing of new Medicare enrollments could slow down depending on how long the shutdown lasts.
Mail Service: Mail will still be delivered. The U.S Postal Service, which doesn’t rely on federal money to operate, will remain open and all mail service will not be affected.
National Parks and U.S. Monuments: In a major departure from past shutdowns, the Interior Department says it will work to keep national parks and public memorials “as accessible as possible.” Some services, like camping and restrooms, might not be accessible because they require staffing and maintenance. Contact your park or check online for more information. To reschedule camping reservations, call 800-365-2267.
Veterans Benefits and Services: Most of the Veterans Administration operations, such as VA hospitals, medical centers and clinics, will stay fully operational. The VA says more than 95 percent of its staff will continue to work during the shutdown. That includes those who work for the Veterans Benefits Administration, so it’s unlikely a shutdown will disrupt claims processing and payments.
Military personnel. Active-duty military personnel are exempt from furloughs, although they will not be paid. The shutdown could furlough civilians and contractors working for the Department of Defense, however.
Taxes: The 2018 tax filing season opens Jan. 29. But more than 55 percent of IRS employees will be furloughed, according to a Treasury Department shutdown plan. Employees who issue refunds would be “generally” furloughed, according to the Treasury plan. A prolonged shutdown could delay tax refunds.
Travel: Flights will not be affected. Air traffic controllers will remain on the job. So will airport Transportation Security Administration security screeners.
Passports: As of Friday evening, the State Department had not announced any decision about what services it could provide during a shutdown, but passport offices in federal buildings could be shut down.
Emergency services: Many parts of the country still are recovering from the hurricanes and wildfires that struck in 2017. It is unclear how the shutdown will affect the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) ability to address the ongoing needs of these survivors. While many FEMA employees will likely be furloughed, former FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate has said that FEMA workers could still be dispatched to emergencies regardless of a shutdown because they are funded by the Disaster Relief Fund.
Food safety: The Food & Drug Administration will still handle high-risk food recalls. Routine meat, poultry and egg inspections will also continue because the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers them essential to safeguarding human life.
Federal Home Loans: There could be a delay processing some FHA loans because furloughs at the Internal Revenue Service would reduce its capacity to verify information about borrowers. After the 2013 federal shutdown, the National Association of Realtors found that 17 percent of closings on homes purchased with FHA loans were delayed.