What Would a Government Shutdown Really Mean?

Based on the last one: layoffs, delayed checks, interrupted services
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2011 2:48 PM CST
In this Jan. 4, 1996, file photo the sun gleams down on the still-closed Washington Monument as the federal budget impasse continued in Washington.   (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)

(Newser) – If the looming government shutdown actually arrives next month, what can you expect? The Los Angeles Times offers a preview, by reporting what occurred during previous shutdowns:

  • Layoffs: During shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, hundreds of thousands of federal workers lost their jobs. Even federal employees who kept their jobs went without paychecks for the length of each shutdown. About 800,000 federal employees were furloughed. (Currently, there are 2 million civilian government employees, not counting postal employees.)
  • Social security checks: Checks were still mailed, but many government payments were delayed thanks to a lack of employees on the job. (Social security checks will be delayed if the government shuts down next month, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi have warned.)

  • Social security services: Many were halted, like requests for retirement and disability claims, requests for Social Security numbers, and address changes.
  • Museums and national parks: They were closed.
  • Other services: Visa and passport applications went unprocessed, and the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration halted transactions. Claims for veterans benefits were delayed.
  • What kept going: “Essential” services like national security, law enforcement, and emergency assistance continued, and some employees were allowed to remain on the job on an emergency basis.
  • How much it might cost: A three-day shutdown in 1990 cost between $245 million and $607 million.
  • How things are different now: In the 1990s, there was no TSA or Department of Homeland Security, and no electronic transactions for things like Social Security payments or student loans, so it’s unclear how things might be different this time around.
It's worth noting, of course, that Rep. Paul Ryan said today, "We're not looking for a government shutdown." (Read more shutdown stories.)

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