Fears are swirling that Congress could be headed for its first government shutdown in years.
Lawmakers have until Saturday to strike a deal to prevent a lapse in government funding — and there isn’t a deal in sight.
Here’s what a shutdown could mean for Americans:
Furloughs for federal workers
The nation saw its last shutdown roughly four years ago, when a nasty fight between the Trump administration and a Democratic-led House over funding for the then-president’s proposed border wall consumed Washington for more than a month.
The longest shutdown in modern history led to hundreds of thousands of federal workers being furloughed or working without pay.
However, that lapse was only a partial shutdown because Congress had already passed some of its full-year funding legislation for agencies including the departments of Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services.
But both chambers seem a long way from finding common ground to report any of their 12 full-year government funding bills out of Congress.
The White House said on Tuesday that more than 1 million active-duty troops could see pay disruptions as a result, adding “hundreds of thousands of their civilian colleagues in the Department of Defense would also be furloughed.”
Some lawmakers are already pushing for legislation to help ensure service members remain paid if the government shuts down. That includes a bill offered by Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.), which also seeks to protect the Coast Guard from pay disruptions. Officials said that branch took a hit during the 2018 shutdown because its funding falls under the same bill that lays out dollars for the Department of Homeland Security.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned this week that a shutdown could mean pain for those who depend on food assistance.
Vilsack told reporters Monday that millions of Americans who depend on WIC — also known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — for support could see a “denial of those benefits and opportunities” in the event of a shutdown.
“It would be literally within a matter of days after the shutdown in some cases. It may be, in some states, it may be literally in a matter of weeks,” he said. “But clearly, during the course of a shutdown, millions of those moms, babies and young children would see a lack of nutrition assistance.”
Vilsack also highlighted that farmers would be unable to secure loans during harvest time, with farm service agency offices “in virtually every county of this country shut down.”
As for those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program, Vilsack said the program “will continue at least for a month of October.” But he warned of “serious consequences” if the nation saw a shutdown go beyond one month.
Beneficiaries of programs like Social Security and Medicare will receive their benefits without interruption, but experts warn there could be disruptions on the technical side for some would-be applicants.
“That’s a big deal if you’re planning on getting on Social Security between now and the end of the year,” said Zach Moller, director of the Economic Program at Third Way, in an interview. “It doesn’t affect everybody, but if you’re one of those people who are turning 62 or 67, or are trying to sign up for those benefits, that’s a problem.”
“You don’t want that to happen to people but that’s a risk of a shutdown,” Moller, a former Senate Democratic budget aide, added.
Mail delivery is also expected to run as normal because the U.S. Postal Service deems itself “generally self-funded.”
It depends on revenue through items like stamps and other products to fund operations.
There’s uncertainty around whether national parks will operate in the event of a shutdown because experts note much of those rules can depend on the administration.
Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland is already facing some calls from Congress to keep national parks and other public lands accessible.
In a letter to Haaland earlier this month, Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the secretary could use the authorities under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) to keep parks open.
“During the December 2018-January 2019 shutdown, most of the national parks remained accessible to visitors because FLREA funds were available to cover costs associated with visitor services and law enforcement,” he said.
But others have previously warned of the safety risks of keeping parks open during a shutdown. Viral media documenting trash piles and environmental damage at parks also sparked outrage in early 2019.
Transportation and travel
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also warned of potential disruptions in the airline industry, while noting the possible impact of a shutdown on air traffic control training.
“A shutdown would include — just in the transportation side alone — shutting down air traffic control training at the exact moment when the country recognizes the need for more, not less air traffic control staffing, and when we have finally got cancellations back at or below normal rates,” Buttigieg said during a recent appearance on CNN’s “State of The Union.”
“The air traffic controllers who would be working in the towers, they wouldn’t get paid,” Buttigieg said. “They’re under enough stress as it is doing that job without having to come into work with the added stress of not receiving a paycheck.”