Congress Avoids Government Shutdown Yet Again – Forbes Advisor

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Congress has approved legislation to keep the government funded and avoid a government shutdown through Mar. 11.

The vote came just one day before funding was poised to expire on Feb. 18, avoiding yet another period of darkness within the federal government.

The stop-gap funding legislation is considered a bipartisan victory, and it offers lawmakers more time to continue negotiations for a full-year funding plan.

It’s the third extension Congress has passed in lieu of a long-term spending agreement. The first came in late September as the previous year’s budget was on the brink of expiring; lawmakers passed a short-term spending agreement that lasted until early December, when the deadline was again pushed back to February.

The new funding agreement is good news to millions of federal workers who would’ve had to go without work and paychecks if it didn’t pass; a shutdown would be especially inconvenient during the ongoing tension at the Russia-Ukraine border.

But it’s just a matter of time before we’ll be discussing the next potential shutdown. Lawmakers will have to approve funding again in just a few weeks, and are reportedly aiming to pass longer-term legislation at that time.

As with all things in Congress, though, we never know what could happen. Here’s what might happen during a shutdown, should lawmakers miss the next funding deadline.

4 Services That Could Be Affected By A Government Shutdown

When a government shutdown occurs, nonessential federal services stop until new funding legislation is passed and signed into law. Each federal agency has its own shutdown plan, which indicates if its activities can continue during the shutdown—and if it has to furlough its employees.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), many programs are exempt from a government shutdown. However, many services would suffer negative consequences that would have passed on to ordinary Americans. Here are four of the biggest.

1. Delays at the IRS

During a government shutdown, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would not be able to verify income and Social Security numbers. It would also have difficulty answering taxpayer questions and resolving compliance issues quickly.

During the September 2021 scramble to pass government funding, press secretary Jen Psaki said that even if a shutdown happened and a majority of IRS employees were furloughed, the agency would be expected to continue processing tax refunds. It’s likely that would apply now should the government run out of funding.

2. Food Stamp Delivery Challenges

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, has been a critical lifeline for families struggling with the economic consequences of the pandemic.

Though a government shutdown wouldn’t cut funding, it could lead to food stamps not being distributed. According to the CRFB, past continuing resolutions have only authorized the benefits to be sent out for 30 days after a shutdown begins.

Should a shutdown go longer, families with limited means could be forced to slash their grocery budgets.

3. New Applications For Social Security, Veterans Affairs Won’t Be Processed

Those currently receiving Social Security benefits wouldn’t be affected by a government shutdown.

But new applications or claims for federal benefits, such as Social Security or Veterans Affairs payments, would not be processed during a government shutdown, potentially leading to a delay in receiving first payments.

4. National Parks and Monuments Could Close

National parks have proven to be a very popular refuge during the pandemic—in 2021, Yellowstone set monthly visitation records.

However, a government shutdown could put the kibosh on many Americans’ outdoor plans. During the government shutdown of 2013, more than 300 parks, national monuments and other sites were closed (though many remained open during the 2018-2019 shutdown, albeit with no visitor services or maintenance).

If another shutdown occurs, it may affect whether national parks and monuments remain open.

Why Were We Facing Another Shutdown?

Congress has been passing temporary fixes to keep the government open since early fall. The stop-gap measures have bided more time for lawmakers, who have continued to quarrel over what should be included in a long-term funding bill.

On top of the political drama, the country is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has previously said a pandemic would be a terrible time for a government shutdown.

“The worst time in the world we want to shut down the government is in the middle of a pandemic where we have 140,000 people a day getting infected and 2,000 people a day dying,” Fauci said during a September interview with The Washington Post. “That’s the time when you want the government working full blast to address this.”

Though the highly contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19 appears to be waning, in early February, President Joe Biden recently noted the US death toll from the pandemic reaching 900,000.

The longest government shutdown in history, which lasted for 35 days, occurred between 2018 and 2019. It began when former President Donald Trump demanded funding for a $5.7 billion wall between the US and Mexico and refused to sign a government funding bill that didn’t include it.

An estimated 800,000 federal workers and 1.2 million contractors went without pay during that period, which happened during the holiday season—with some workers so negatively impacted that they filed for illness benefits.

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