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13 questions St. Louisans have about the government shutdown, answered

Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

This article was originally publishing in January, 2018. We republished it because it answers some questions about what a partial government shut down could mean.

Federal employees will return to work Tuesday, after hundreds of thousands of federal workers were not on the job because of a government shutdown.

Congress on Monday passed a stopgap spending bill and sent it to President Donald Trump.

The shutdown occurred after Republican lawmakers in Washington failed to pass a short-term spending Friday and continued to disagree over the weekend on funding for immigration proposals, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, natural disasters and other priorities.

Some Democratic lawmakers said they would not vote on a spending bill until a solution is found for young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, who were previously protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that the president has canceled. Democrats have also demanded increased funding for natural disaster recovery.

Even if Congress passes a budget, the president must sign spending bills into law. Some say that there’s no sure bet Trump would sign any agreements that Congress made. Last week the president rejected an immigration plan that would have provided funding for increased border security but not a wall. Trump later commented on Twitter: “If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!”

Congress narrowly averted a shutdown in December, when members passed a spending bill to push the deadline to fund the government to Jan. 19.

Here’s how the shutdown could affect you.

What stays open? What shuts down?

Apply a “many, but not all” philosophy to government functions. Each department has its own procedures for who to retain and who to furlough.

Some employees will keep working in most departments. But there may not be enough bodies to prevent delays. The government considers national security, safety and order, and medical care essential, so fewer employees are furloughed in the military, air traffic control, TSA, law enforcement, or Veterans Affairs hospitals. The U.S. Postal Service workers also continue.

National parks, museums, and some passports offices tend to shut down; many employees in tax, insurance, and benefit-related offices could also be furloughed, even if the larger department stays open.

How long will it last?

Shutdown lengths have ranged from several days to three weeks.

Does the government save any money by shutting down?

No. Economists say that in addition to immediate losses, the stutter in federal processes can lower financial growth for months after a shutdown. In 2013, economists and federal departments calculated that the country lost billions of dollars between decreased travel spending, lowered economic output, and retroactive pay to furloughed employees.

How many people stop working?

More than 850,000 people were suspended without pay during the last government shutdown in 2013.

I’m a senior. Do I get a Social Security check? Will my Medicare still work?

Yes and yes. However, if you have to file paperwork, expect a long wait. Thousands of medical disability reviews and Supplemental Security Income redeterminations were delayed in 2013, according to a government report.

I’m in the military. What about me?

Active-duty military personnel continue to report for duty, but according to current law would not get paid. In 2013, then-President Barack Obama signed a bill to pay the military during shutdown. But the bill only addressed that shutdown, so Trump would have to pass something similar again this year.

Unlike in 2013, though, veterans’ services through the Veterans Affairs department will continue, though they may not be fully staffed.

I get food stamps. Will they keep working?

Congress stops providing SNAP benefits several days into a government shutdown, according to the Department of Agriculture.

My kid’s in Head Start.

In 2013, Head Start locations closed in six states, according to a report by the government. Missouri’s not on that list, but it’s hard to know what might happen this year.

I planned a vacation in the U.S. What should I expect?

Even if you’re flying, you should still be able to get to your destination.

But if you’re going to federally operated parks or museums, you might find them closed. In Missouri, you might to reschedule that trip to the Gateway Arch; in Illinois, don’t plan on visiting Lincoln’s home. Multi-state attractions like the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail will also close. If you’re flying to Washington, D.C., don’t expect to visit the zoo or the Smithsonian Institution museums.

I’m flying out of country. Can I leave?

Technically, yes, but plan for long lines at customs and delayed passport renewals.

I was hoping to file my taxes sometime soon.

You might wait a bit longer than normal for a refund.

I have a court case coming up.

If the court is a smaller local circuit court, no worries (unless you’re the one being sued). Federal courts may stay open, but cases have been suspended during past shutdowns.

Will the Federal Emergency Management Agency stay open to continue supporting recovery in California, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Texas?

Yes and no.

FEMA operates under the Department of Homeland Security, which has received funding during shutdowns in the past. But FEMA itself doesn’t remain totally operating during a shutdown; more than 3,000 of FEMA’s employees would be suspended, according to the Homeland Security Department’s plans for a government shutdown. Other FEMA employees will continue working because they are funded by programs not affected in a shutdown.

Follow Kae Petrin on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.