Q: What does a "government shutdown" mean?
A Government Shutdown means that there is a lapse in the funds appropriated to keep the federal government running. This occurred on October 1. As a result, portions of the federal government have "shut down."
Q: What services will continue?
Services that are deemed essential for the safety of human life and the protection of property will continue. This includes the Armed Forces, border patrol, law enforcement, fire fighting, and federal workers who provide medical care on the job. The Postal Service and the Federal Reserve, which are both self-funded, will also continue to operate.
Q: What will be the impact of a shutdown?
All national parks and federal wildlife refuges would be closed for the duration of the shutdown, the Interior Department said Friday. About 9 million visitors were turned away from parks, museums and monuments run by the National Park Service in the mid-1990s, the last time the government shut down temporarily.
About 40 percent of the nation's 2 million federal workers would be furloughed. Though Congress has approved restoring lost pay retroactively in the past, there's no guarantee lawmakers will do that this time.
About 1.4 million active-duty military personnel must remain on the job but won't get paid until a new deal is signed into law. Active National Guard units also must continue to work. Most civilian employees of the Defense Department face furloughs.
Some other possibilities: Delays in processing tens of thousands of passport and visa applications, issuing gun permits, continuing U.S. bankruptcy court cases and approving mortgage applications.
Q: Will federal employees continue to be paid?
In the event of a shutdown, each federal agency is required to determine which employees are "essential" and which are "non-essential." Essential personnel are required to report for work as usual, while non-essential personnel will be put in "non-pay" status, or "furloughed." Neither group, however, will receive any pay until at least the shutdown ends and maybe not even then. Neither group is guaranteed back pay when the shutdown ends, although this has occurred in the past. The compromise legislation that ends the shutdown will determine whether federal employees receive back pay.
Q: Will air travel be affected? Will air traffic controllers and airport security officers be on duty?
Air travel will not be affected. Air traffic controllers and transportation security officers are considered essential personnel. They will be on duty, but will not be paid until the government shutdown ends.
Q: Will military personnel be paid?
Yes. Congress approved and President Obama signed into law an order that ensures active duty military and select "essential" civilian personnel are paid on-time despite the shutdown. The 1998 guidance on a shutdown directs that "All military personnel shall continue to report for duty." Not all units will continue to operate, however, and military personnel may be assigned to other than their regular duties.
Q: Will Social Security checks still go out?
Yes, however new Social Security claims may not be processed.
Q: Will I still be able to see a doctor if I am covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or another federal health care plan?
Yes. Doctors will still see you and the various federal health care systems will continue to reimburse doctors.
Q - Will I still receive Medicare and Medicaid benefits?
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), current Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and providers should not be affected by a government shutdown. Medicare has 30 days to pay providers and payments. For new enrollees, they will likely not be processed or able to enroll in Medicare. Since Medicaid is a state-run program, and the funds are paid in advance to the states by the federal government, new enrollment would likely continue. CRS did detail that the agencies have considerable discretion when it comes to how it will continue to run.
Q: How about veterans medical services?
The Veterans Adminstration's medical services, medical facilities, and medical support & compliance accounts will not have a disruption in their services. However, other services including VA call centers and hotlines, decisions on claims appeals or motions by the Board of Veterans Appeals, recruiting and hiring of veteran job applicants and outreach and public awareness activities will be impacted.
Q: Will veterans' benefits continue?
VA hospitals will remain open. The VA has excepted VBA claims processors so that it can continue to process claims and beneficiaries will continue to receive their payments. In the event of a prolonged shutdown, VA will continue to review and update its plan in conjunction with the applicable legal requirements and circumstances.
Q: Will I get my unemployment check?
The federal government provides money to the states to finance unemployment insurance. Depending on the length of the shutdown, the states may run out of money, which would require the state to step in and advance the money to keep their programs running. Otherwise, benefits could be stopped.
Q: Will federal retirees continue to receive their pensions?
Most federal pension checks are issued electronically on the first of the month. The pension payments for October have already been authorized and will go out as planned.
Q: Will I still get my mail?
Yes. The U.S. Postal Service isn't funded by taxpayers. Independently financed agencies like the Postal Service won't be affected.
Q: I am planning to visit Washington, DC. Will the tourist destinations in Washington, DC be open?
Unfortunately, many tourist destinations will be closed.
The various monuments and memorials in Washington are outdoors, are not gated, and are open 24 hours a day. This should not change. However, National Park Rangers will not be on duty to give docent talks.
The Capitol Visitor Center will be closed and all Capitol tour guides will be furloughed. Tours of the Capitol Building will not be available. However, the House and Senate Galleries will remain publicly accessible whenever the House and Senate are in session.
The Library of Congress will be closed; no tours will be available.
The Smithsonian Institution will be closed. The Smithsonian includes 19 museums and galleries (most of the major museums in DC), the National Zoo, and several research facilities.
As you will recall, the President suspended White House tours earlier this year.
Q: Will passports and visas continue to be processed?
No. The State Department employees responsible for these activities will be furloughed.
Q: Will federal courts continue to operate?
It depends on the length of the shutdown. During past government shutdowns, courts continued to operate using funds from court fees and funds leftover from previous years. Some courts declined to start new civil trials during the shutdown. However, if there is a prolonged shutdown, the courts may run out of funds and be forced to close.
Q - Will Congressman Frelinghuysen's offices in New Jersey and Washington be open?
While there will be "essential" staff on hand at both offices per guidance by the U.S. House of Representatives, their abilities to assist 11th Congressional District residents with issues relating to the federal government will be significantly limited due to the shutdown.
Unfortunately, the few remaining "unfurloughed" personnel on my New Jersey staff will be unable to staff our Walk-In Offices in Wayne and Nutley. However, please feel free to call our office at 973-984-0711 for assistance.
Q: Will government websites have current information despite the federal shutdown?
Probably not. As federal departments and agencies will be shutdown, information available on their respective websites will not be the most current available. Individuals needing information are encouraged to call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636) where information specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST to answer questions. This call center will be open despite the shutdown.
Q: Has the government been shut down in the past?
Yes. The last one lasted 21 days from Dec. 15, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. It came soon after a five-day shutdown that lasted from Nov. 13-19, 1995. A disagreement over tax cuts between then-President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, (GA), precipitated those shutdowns.
Since 1976, there have been 17 shutdowns, though before the 1980s the government continued operating at reduced levels without furloughing workers.