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The Government Shutdown and You
October 2, 2013
better place to celebrate Independence Day

Welcome to the 2013 Government Shutdown Extravaganza! Because Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on how the U.S. should pay its bills, the federal government is in lockdown as of today. And this could be a real bad time since the economy is finally showing signs of life. Why? Because shutdowns cost money, and a lot of it.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the two previous shutdowns — in late 1995 and early 1996 — cost the country $1.4 billion. That’s a lot of money. But what, exactly, does that mean for you? Let’s take look:

I Am Currently Out of the Office

For starters, if you’re a federal employee, you’re on furlough. Unless of course you work in “critical services,” such as air traffic controllers, hazardous waste handlers or the producers of reality television. So take some time and enjoy your day(s) off. And take heart in the fact that in previous shutdowns, everyone who stayed home was paid retroactively after Washington returned to abnormal.

Expect Delays

On a far more serious note, the shutdown could effect student aid and loans. Over 14 million students receive student aid, in the form of grants and loans in roughly 6,600 schools through Pell Grants and Direct Student Loans. And if a shutdown is prolonged, the payment of this money could be delayed. There simply won’t be enough people to process the payments. However, on the upside, other programs, such as Race to the Top and Promise Neighborhoods, are funded by Congress through the end of the year. So, plan accordingly.

Wanna Get Away?

If you were planning a trip out of the country, but you don’t already have a passport, you might be having a “staycation.” The last time the government couldn’t get out of its own way, over 200,000 passport applications went unprocessed. Tourism and airline revenues tanked. Additionally – and this is something very unique to Washington – all national parks, national zoos, and national museums will all be closed. So, no Smithsonian. And if you’re counting, that’s 368 National Park Service sites closed, with millions of visitors turned away. So, even a “staycation” would be limited.

What’s NOT Shut Down?

However, not everything in DC goes on hiatus during a shutdown. Here are a few things that will continue running normally.

  • Calling 911: All emergency services will continue as usual, including law enforcement and disaster assistance. So you don’t have to worry about living in The Purge for one night.
  • Get caught by a red light camera in D.C.: Red light cameras will still be running, and yes, tickets will still be sent out. So, don’t be caught speeding. That’s because…
  • Mail is still delivered: The United States Postal Service is exempt from furloughs. Ensuring that you will ALWAYS get your bills. And tickets.
  • Get your trash picked up The District has about two weeks’ worth of money on hand already authorized by Congress, which may or may not be enough to wait out a brief shutdown, but it should (hopefully) be enough to collect your trash.
  • Ride Amtrak: Amtrak may receive federal subsidies, but it’s organized as a corporation and collects enough revenue in ticket fees to outlast a brief shutdown.
  • Take Metrorail and Metrobus: Metro assured riders Monday that the system would stay open in the event of a shutdown, though some trains could be shortened from eight cars to six, depending on how many people in DC are affected by furloughs.

Government shutdowns are mostly caused when the two parties can’t settle their differences for one reason or the other. And as the old proverb says:

“When an elephant and a donkey fight, it’s usually the grass that get’s trampled.”

Most of the time these shutdowns don’t last long enough to have any real impact on your daily life, but it’s always best to be prepared…to avoid getting “trampled.”