Laurel and Hardy's famous line seems appropriate this morning:
“Another fine mess,” indeed. Unless something rational happens in Congress during the next few hours, the U.S. government will shut down at midnight tonight eastern daylight time.
Make no mistake: whatever the irretrievably hypocritical Republicans in both houses of Congress are saying on television and in their tweets, the shutdown is their fault.
It would be easy for me to rant against their ignorance, stupidity and in some cases deranged fanaticism but you can find that all over the internet. Instead, here's an elder's survival guide to government shutdown.
Overall, about one-third of the government will shut down – that is, 800,000 or so of the 2.1 million federal employees will be sent home without pay so thousands of services will stop or be delayed. I have chosen those most likely to affect elders directly. Information on this stuff can be sketchy. I've done the best I can to confirm the notes below.
Based on past experience, Social Security payments will probably go out as usual; they were sent during the last shutdown in 1995 and 1996. But some workers will be furloughed and there may be delays in processing benefit applications for new retirees.
If you are unemployed, you will continue to receive that benefit.
MEDICARE AND MEDICAID
Physicians will continue to see Medicare and Medicaid patients and the programs will continue “largely without interruption” according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS). There may, however, be delays in processing new claims.
Note that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will be unable to continue support for the annual seasonal influenza program during shutdown.
If you are younger than 65 and looking forward to enrollment in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) when it begins on Tuesday, you will be able to do that. Funds for Obamacare are not dependent on the Congressional budget process, the failure of which is what has brought on this shutdown crisis.
If you are one of the two or three people in the U.S. who continue to receive Social Security benefits via snailmail, you will receive your check as long as the Social Security Administration sends them out.
That's because the U.S. Postal Service isn't funded by Congress and it will remain open and operational.
SNAP (Food Stamps)
SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, will continue to be distributed.
VETERANS HOSPITALS AND BENEFITS
Veterans hospitals will remain open and benefits will be paid but there may be delays in processing new claims.
Decisions on appeals for denial of disability benefits to the Board of Veterans Appeals will be delayed until after a government shutdown ends.
Active military personnel go to work but if the shutdown lasts long enough for current funding to run out, they may not be paid until a new budget is signed into law.
FEDERAL INCOME TAX
If you got a six-month extension on your income tax last April, payment is still due on 17 October.
VACATIONS AND TRAVEL
National parks, monuments, museums and zoos will be closed. All of them, turning away millions of visitors a day.
Air traffic controllers and airport security screeners remain on the job.
FEDERAL COURTS AND THE SUPREME COURT
Federal courts apparently have enough money to remain open for about two weeks. Beyond then, furloughs will be necessary.
The Supreme Court, which opens for the new term on October 7, can last about ten business days.
THE WHITE HOUSE AND THE PRESIDENT
The president continues to work and be paid during shutdown. But according to a White House contingency plan [pdf], about three-quarters of the 1700-person White House staff will be furloughed and if you happen to be in D.C., you won't be able to tour the White House.
All 535 embers of Congress, due to permanent appropriation for their pay, will be paid and will not be furloughed. (You guessed that already, right?)
Only essential support staff remain working. According to the Washington Post, those include employees “who help with drafting legislation, researching, tallying votes, giving legal advice, handling communications or providing technological support.” Many others are furloughed.
If you are wonky enough to want to know more than this, the Office of Management and Budget has published a list of links to contingency plans from every agency of the federal government.
And if you want to vent about this “fine mess,” have at it in the comments. God knows we the people deserve better than what this Congress gives us.