How Would a Government Shutdown Affect You?

During a shutdown nonessential services will be disrupted, but most benefits won’t.

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Written by Anna Helhoski
Senior Writer
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Edited by Rick VanderKnyff
Senior Assigning Editor
Fact Checked

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Updates as of March 23:

  • The government shutdown has finally been averted for good — at least for this fiscal year. In the early morning hours on Saturday, the Senate finally approved the $1.2 trillion spending bill, which funds roughly 70% to 80% of the government. The Senate passed the bill shortly after the midnight deadline on Friday despite the House approving the package earlier in the day. Had the Senate failed to approve the package, the lapse would have put nonessential federal workers on furlough without pay during the shut down, but otherwise caused minimal impact to government services. Since September, Congress has had to rely repeatedly on last-minute maneuvering to avoid a shutdown. 

  • The drama of funding the 2023-2024 fiscal year is over, but there's only six months until Congress will need to approve appropriations again: The deadline to fund the 2024-2025 fiscal year is Oct. 1.

  • As of Friday, the House passed a $1.2 trillion spending package that would fund another 80% of the government. The Senate was still voting on amendments when the midnight deadline passed.

  • On March 8, the Senate passed six funding bills and sent them to the desk of President Joe Biden just hours before a deadline to avert a partial government shutdown. The measures will fund about 20% of the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The House of Representatives passed its bipartisan package of six funding bills March 6.

  • The staggered deadline for the funding bills set by an earlier extension was March 1 and March 8. On Feb. 29, Congress passed yet another short-term deal to extend funding to the new deadlines (March 8 and March 22). 

The threat of another potential government shutdown is upon us and you might be wondering what this has to do with you.

Every year Congress approves 12 appropriations bills to keep the government going before the fiscal year ends after Sept. 30. This fiscal year, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, wanted to negotiate, leaving the fate of federal services operations in limbo.

If Congress doesn’t act quickly to approve a new spending package or agree on another stopgap to delay the shutdown, part of the government will close up shop after March 1. But even a full shutdown doesn’t shut every door.

A government shutdown would play havoc with several federal government agencies and operations. That means nonessential services would be suspended, while other programs that receive mandatory funding would be spared. You don’t have to worry about things like air traffic control or power grid maintenance, for example.

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Overall, the brunt of the disruption will fall on furloughed federal workers. The shutdown only ends when Congress can reach a funding agreement.

In the meantime, here’s how a government shutdown could impact the following:

How does a government shutdown affect Social Security payments?

People receiving Social Security benefits will continue to get their payments.

However, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applicants who are still waiting for a decision might have to wait longer due to possible delays at the state agencies that handle the decision-making but that are funded by the Social Security Administration.

Also, the Social Security Administration says it will pause benefits verifications, stop making corrections to earnings records and cease issuing replacement Medicare cards, among other things. But it will continue handling applications for benefits, issuing Social Security cards and tending to administrative requests such as direct deposit setups and address changes.

How does a government shutdown affect food stamps/SNAP benefits?

Delivery won’t be interrupted for benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — once known as “food stamps” — as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Both programs have contingency funds, but if the shutdown lasts longer than 30 days, it could become difficult for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue operations. WIC would shut down entirely a few days after the federal contingency fund runs out, according to the White House.

SNAP delivery could last longer, but for how long will be up to the USDA. During the 34-day partial shutdown in 2018-2019, the USDA worked with state agencies to keep the program running for the entire duration.

How does a government shutdown affect Medicaid and Medicare?

Delivery of both Medicaid and Medicare benefits would continue, according to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) contingency plan.

However, some administrative functions of the programs may be suspended like:

  • Receiving replacement Medicare cards.

  • Benefit verifications.

  • Responses to third-party information or Freedom of Information Act requests. 

  • Overpayments processing. 

  • Prisoner activities. 

If needed, the SSA would increase the number of employees exempt from furlough to keep operations going, as it did during the 2013 shutdown, according to the SSA.

How does a government shutdown affect the TSA?

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are considered essential federal employees and are ordered to continue working without pay during a shutdown. In the past this led to an increase in TSA agents missing work and calling in sick. Missed paychecks were a financial strain on workers — some of whom earn less than $40,000 per year.

For travelers, a shortage of TSA officers could lead to longer lines and wait times at airport security, especially if airports are forced to close some security checkpoints due to the lack of staff.

How does a government shutdown affect the U.S. Postal Service?

A government shutdown would not affect the U.S. Postal Service. Mail delivery would continue, employees would still work for their regular pay and USPS post offices would remain open.

That’s because the USPS isn’t funded by the federal government, nor does it receive tax dollars. Its revenue comes from selling products such as stamps and packaging, as well as its shipping and delivery services.

How does a government shutdown affect unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits will continue during a shutdown. The Department of Labor oversees the program, but unemployment compensation is administered through states. The federal government does pay administrative costs, so if the shutdown drags on, there could be a delay in processing applications.

Furloughed employees will still have access to unemployment benefits in certain states, but they may be required to return any funds they receive when the shutdown ends and they receive back pay. Those required to work without pay aren’t eligible for unemployment.

How does a government shutdown affect Amtrak?

Amtrak will likely continue to operate as usual.

Although the rail service is a federally chartered corporation, Amtrak is operated as a for-profit company. Amtrak does receive some federal grants, so a long shutdown could impact its cash flow — and perhaps even operations — but it is unlikely. In the last shutdown, train service was not impacted.

How does a government shutdown affect teachers and schools?

Public school teachers are not federal employees so they would not be furloughed under a government shutdown.

It’s also unlikely to have much impact on public school districts since most funding comes from the state and local level. The small percentage of federal funding for programs under Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Act was provided before the start of school.

If the shutdown lasts long enough, then Impact Aid— granted to districts if their land boundaries are owned by the government — could be affected. It’s used for things like textbooks, computer equipment, advanced placement classes and teacher salaries.

How does a government shutdown affect student loans and college aid?

Plan to pay your federal student loan bill even if a shutdown happens. The repayment system is managed by servicing companies — not the government itself — so it should keep chugging along. Borrowers applying for loan forgiveness programs or consolidation could face delays because those requests go directly to the Education Department.

Federal financial aid for current students isn’t likely to be affected because students typically receive grant and loan money at the start of the semester.

A shutdown could impact borrowers who plan to attend school next year by further delaying processing of the newly-simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

How does a government shutdown affect air travel?

Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, like TSA officers, are federal employees who are expected to continue to work without pay during a government shutdown. Some workers inevitably will not report to work without a paycheck, and even a few absences can bring the nation’s aviation system to a standstill.

During the 2019 government shutdown, the absence of 10 air traffic controllers led to a temporary grounding at New York’s LaGuardia airport, as well as delays at other major airports on the East Coast.

Air travelers will likely face more flight delays and cancellations if the shutdown drags on. Airlines have already blamed the FAA’s shortage of air traffic controllers for meltdowns earlier this year, and any absences during the government shutdown could exacerbate the issue.

A government shutdown could also delay the FAA’s hiring and training of new air traffic controllers, meaning airline reliability may not improve significantly even after the shutdown is over.

Meghan Coyle, Eliza Haverstock, Tina Orem and Cara Smith contributed to this article.

Photo of House Speaker Mike Johnson by Anna Rose Layde/Getty Images News Images via Getty Image

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