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Well, it's official: America is now experiencing the longest government shutdown ever. Paychecks are on hold for over 800,000 Federal workers; many of those workers are furloughed, and some Federal departments and agencies are no longer providing critical services. The White House and Congress remain at an impasse, and no deal to end the shutdown appears to be in sight. In fact, the President has suggested that this shutdown could last months or possibly even years.
What does the shutdown mean to you, exactly? Even if you work in the private sector, you're still likely to feel the impact of the government shutdown in one way or another. Government shutdowns don't just affect Federal workers, after all. Here are several ways the government shutdown is affecting everybody.
Long Lines at the Airport
Are you planning to travel soon? If so, you may be in for a surprise when you arrive at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is one of the government agencies affected by the shutdown. TSA workers are required to continue working through the shutdown, but they're not being paid right now. As a result, staffing at many airport screening points is less than optimal, and it may get worse in the coming days if the shutdown doesn't end. TSA agents are increasingly taking sick days rather than reporting to work without being paid. If you do plan to travel during the shutdown, arrive at the airport early enough to deal with long lines and delays at screening points. You could consider alternative transportation plans; Amtrak, for example, isn't currently experiencing any significant delays.
Food Safety and Assistance Program Disruptions
While there haven't been any major disruptions to food safety and assistance programs, those programs may be affected soon if the shutdown doesn't end. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one of the government agencies currently impacted by the shutdown; its food safety inspectors are currently not being paid. While the FDA has implemented plans to ensure inspection coverage of high-risk food items, such as produce, even those contingency plans may be affected if the shutdown continues. Expect a possible decrease in the quantities and varieties of produce available at the grocery store in the days ahead. You may even have to substitute canned and other preserved foods for dinner if the government doesn't reopen soon.
Additionally, food assistance support such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which supports over 40 million Americans, may be affected as well if the government doesn't open in the next few weeks. The Department of Agriculture indicated it has enough funds on hand to continue SNAP payments through the month of February. However, it's unknown exactly how long beyond February those funds will remain. If you rely upon SNAP to supplement your monthly purchases of groceries and other food items, you should consider how your plans will be affected by a disruption in SNAP payments and begin adjusting accordingly.
The Impact on Tax Refunds
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is yet another government agency currently affected by the partial government shutdown. Many of the agency's employees are currently furloughed as the budget showdown continues. While everyone will still be required to file their Federal taxes on time this year, there may be considerable delays before the IRS sends out any tax refunds. Additionally, since so many of its employees are furloughed, it may take longer to get questions answered or get any other kind of assistance from the IRS during the shutdown. When it comes to taxes and tax preparation this year, expect added delays and confusion.
If You're Directly Affected, Take Some Proactive Steps
Hundreds of thousands of people are directly affected by the shutdown. Besides the Federal workforce itself, thousands of family members are dealing with the uncertainties and pay disruption caused by the shutdown. Additionally, thousands of people and companies that do business with the Federal government are awaiting pay for past work done or hoping that the government reopens to pursue more work. If the shutdown's uncertainty has you concerned, you're not alone. However, you can take some steps to mitigate the impact the shutdown has on your life and your finances. These steps include:
- Adjust your monthly budget to reflect the impact that the shutdown, and potentially months of no pay, will have on your household.
- Contact key lenders for your home and auto loans and credit cards and inform them that your ability to make monthly payments may be limited during the shutdown. In some cases, they may be willing to accept delayed payments with no impact on your credit, although each lender will approach the shutdown differently.
- Refrain from any significant purchases or taking on additional debt while the shutdown continues.
- Prepare to take additional measures, such as securing a part-time job, cashing in retirement savings, or selling valuable property to address financial shortfalls if the shutdown continues.
Weather the Storm
Government shutdowns are unfortunate, and they affect millions of people in one way or another. This shutdown, in particular, is fraught with uncertainty, with both the President and Congress showing no willingness to compromise. As the shutdown rolls on, consider the key points and advice provided here in the days ahead; in many cases, it can help you mitigate some of the worst effects of the shutdown until the government finally reopens.