Sunday, February 7, 2016

Shutdown impact on key agencies, services

Chief Ranger Gregg Tinkham, left, and Law Enforcement Ranger Trevor Blasco monitor the front gate at Valley Forge National Park, letting guests know that the visitors center, trails, roads and facilities are closed. (Mari Schaefer/Staff)
Chief Ranger Gregg Tinkham, left, and Law Enforcement Ranger Trevor Blasco monitor the front gate at Valley Forge National Park, letting guests know that the visitors center, trails, roads and facilities are closed. (Mari Schaefer/Staff)
Chief Ranger Gregg Tinkham, left, and Law Enforcement Ranger Trevor Blasco monitor the front gate at Valley Forge National Park, letting guests know that the visitors center, trails, roads and facilities are closed. (Mari Schaefer/Staff) Gallery: Government shutdown

The shutdown of the federal government is actually a partial shutdown. Those services considered essential will remain available. Below is a rundown of the impact on some of the major federal departments and agencies and key services they provide.

Social Security Administration

You should not see any delays in getting Social Security and Medicare benefits. They’ll still keep coming As of today, Social Security field offices remain open but will offer only limited services such as hearings scheduled before an Administrative Law Judge. Social Security card centers will be closed. Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments to beneficiaries will continue with no change in payment dates.

The field offices can help people apply for benefits, assist in appeals, issue changes of addresses or direct deposits. It can accept reports of deaths, verify citizenship statuses, replace missing payments, issue critical payments, and change a representative payee.

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  • But the offices will not issue new or replacement Social Security cards, replace Medicare cards, or issue proof of income letter.

    Luckily, you can perform some of the functions online here.

    National Park Service

    Sorry campers and tourists: You’ll have to pull up stakes or look for something else to do. All park services are closed.

    Campers have 48 hours to vacate sites. And many parks, such as Yellowstone, will close to traffic, and some will become completely inaccessible.

    Tourists visiting sites operated under the park service are also impacted. Locally, those include: Independence National Historic Park (Liberty Bell and Independence Hall), Benjamin Franklin Museum and the Edgar Allan Poe and Gloria Dei Church national historic sites, all in Philadelphia. Valley Forge National Historic Park is also closed.

    (The Franklin Institute, however, remains open to the public as does the Benjamin Franklin Memorial, since both are privately run.)

    The closures could hurt hotels, restaurants and other businesses that depend on tourists to the Philadelphia region.

    In Washington, the Smithsonian museums will close, as will the zoo. The Statue of Liberty in New York will close.

    However, at some parks, such as the Great Smokies, where entrances are free and open, people can continue to drive, bike and hike.

    Department of Veterans Affairs

    The Board of Veterans Appeals will stop issuing rulings, meaning decisions about some disability claims by veterans will wait longerl. Interments at national cemeteries will slow. If a shutdown drags on for weeks, disability and pension payments may be interrupted.

    But most department will continue with 95 percent of staff are either exempted from a shutdown or have the budget to keep paying them already in place. The department's health programs get their money a year in advance, so veterans can still see their doctor, get prescriptions filled and visit fully operational VA hospitals and outpatient clinics. Claims workers can process benefit payments until late in October, when that money starts to run out.

    Health and Human Services

    Enrollment will continue for President Barack Obama's health care law under the Affordable Care Act, known by most as Obamacare. Today marks the debut of health insurance markets that will start accepting applicants for coverage that begins in January.

    Core elements of Obamacare are an entitlement so their flow of money does not depend on congressional appropriations. That's why Republicans have been trying explicitly to starve the law of money.

    Food and Drug Administration

    Most routine food inspections by the Food and Drug Administration will be suspended except for meat inspection, which is handled by the Agriculture Department, continues. The FDA will still handle high-risk recalls.

    Department of Transportation

    The federal Transportation Department includes the Federal Aviation Administration and Highway Administration.

    Internal Transportation Department investigations of waste and fraud will be put on hold, as will progress on replacing the country's radar-based air traffic system with GPS-based navigation. Most accident investigators who respond to air crashes, train collisions, pipeline explosions and other accidents will be furloughed but could be called back if needed.

    However, air traffic controllers and many of the technicians who keep air traffic equipment working will remain on the job, meaning air travelers should not see much change. Amtrak says it can continue normal operations for a while, relying on ticket revenue, but will suffer without federal subsidies over the longer term.

    Federal Aviation Administration employees who make grants to airports, most Federal Highway Administration workers and federal bus and truck safety inspectors will also stay on the job because they are paid with user fees. Railroad and pipeline safety inspectors will also remain at work.

    Department of Defense

    All 1.4 million active-duty personnel will stay on duty and should continue to collect timely pay. And most Homeland Security agents, borders officers and other agents will keep work.

    But, about half the Defense Department's civilian employees will be furloughed.

    U.S. Postal Service

    You’ll still get mail. The postal service is independent.

    Department of Agriculture

    The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, could shut down. It provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, mothers and their children.

    However, school lunches and breakfasts will continue to be served, and food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will still be distributed.

    Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Economic data will be interrupted as the Bureau of Labor Statistics ceases almost all operations. This leaves the stock market without some of the benchmark economic indicators that drive the market up or down. The key September jobs report, due Friday, could still be released on time if the White House authorizes that, but that's not been determined. Statistical gathering also is being interrupted at the Commerce Department and Census Bureau. This means the government won't come out on time with its monthly report on construction spending Tuesday or a factory orders report Thursday.

    The weekly report on applications for unemployment benefits is still expected Thursday. The Treasury Department's daily report on government finances will be released normally and government debt auctions are to proceed as scheduled. And at Commerce, these functions continue, among others: weather and climate observation, fisheries law enforcement and patent and trademark application processing.

    Bureau of Consular Affairs (Passports)

    For the most part, passport and visas will be handled as usual. They are fully supported by user fees instead of appropriated money so are not affected. The government will keep handling green card applications.

    Federal Housing Administration

    If you’re applying for an FHA loan, it might get delayed. The FHA insures about 15 percent of new loans for home purchases and is expected to approve fewer loans for borrowers with low to moderate income because of reduced staff.

    Only 67 of 349 FHA employees will keep working. The agency will focus on single-family homes during a shutdown, setting aside loan applications for multi-family dwellings. The Housing and Urban Development Department won't make additional payments to the nation's 3,300 public housing authorities, but the agency estimates that most of them have enough money to keep giving people rental assistance until the end of October.

    But borrowers seeking loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should not have any problems.

    Internal Revenue Service

    The IRS will be one of the most crippled agencies, with more than 90 percent of its employees on furlough. It will continue with some basic functions, but will stop tax processing activities and cancel audits.


    Sources: Staff Research, U.S. Government, Associated Press

    The Franklin Institute will remain open to the public.  Additionally, the Benjamin Franklin Memorial, one of the
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