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What could be affected

Washington Post, Globe Staff / April 7, 2011

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Some details remain elusive on how a government shutdown would affect workers and services. Here’s a rundown on what is known.

FEDERAL WORKERS AND CONTRACTORS
Military: The shutdown would happen in the middle of the military’s two-week pay period. The Defense Department would distribute paychecks for the first week, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. It is unclear when the second and subsequent weeks would be paid. In an effort to avoid a disruption, House Republicans introduced legislation that would pay troops if a deal isn’t reached. Congressional aides could not say whether such a bill would pass either chamber before tomorrow. Many civilian employees of the Defense Department would be furloughed.

Other workers: The government said 800,000 “nonessential workers’’ would face furloughs nationwide. That is about 28 percent of the total nonmilitary workforce, which includes about 78,000 workers in Massachusetts. Each federal agency is supposed to have communicated with its employees whether they’re “essential.’’ Air traffic controllers, border patrol agents, and most homeland security officials are considered essential. For those on furlough, it is unclear whether they will eventually be paid for their forced time off. In the last shutdown, they did receive retroactive pay, but the decision will be made by Congress, and there is expected to be a push from some representatives and senators to limit such pay.

Contractors: Veterans of previous shutdowns are reminding contractors that they could be locked out of their offices or forced to cut short government-funded travel. Advisers suggest contracting firms should ask employees to take vacations or temporarily reassign them to other projects. Worst case, some firms may need to furlough employees.

FEDERAL SERVICES
School lunches and other public school programs: Little impact expected. Federal funding for public schools typically is granted to states well in advance of the time the actual expense is incurred. The vast majority of public school funding comes from state and local governments.

Social Security: The Social Security Administration was still finalizing its plans yesterday, but current beneficiaries would continue receiving their benefits, according to a senior administration official. During the last shutdown, new applications for benefits were delayed. Late yesterday afternoon, workers at field offices still did not know whether they would be open on Monday in the event of a shutdown.

Websites: Government sites not tied to “essential’’ government services would not update. E-commerce transactions on government websites would be halted.

Medicare payments: The insurance program for senior citizens would be funded for at least a short period of time, according to a senior administration official. A specific length of time was not provided.

National Institutes of Health research: The NIH will not admit new patients or initiate any new clinical trials, but clinical trials in process would continue.

Passports: Processing may be suspended, though this is still under discussion within the State Department.

The IRS: Taxes must still be filed on time. For taxpayers using electronic filing, no delays are expected. Those, however, who filed paper forms would not receive their refunds until after the shutdown ends.

Loans: The Federal Housing Administration is expected to halt guarantees for new loans. A long-term shutdown could batter an already weak real-estate market during its spring season. About 30 percent of the market is FHA loans. Small Business Association approval of applications for business loan guarantees and direct loans to small businesses would probably cease.

Homeland security: The department would suspend its e-Verify system, which allows employers to check a worker’s immigration status, officials said. But most of the Department of Homeland Security’s 230,000 employees hold jobs that would continue during an impasse. Agents would still protect borders, airport security guards would screen passenger bags, and the Coast Guard would continue to patrol the nation’s waters.

Environmental protection: The EPA will cease environmental impact statements, probably slowing the approval for some construction projects, according to a senior administration official. It would also cease permitting locations for air and land and water pollution limits. During the last shutdown, work at toxic waste sites also slowed — leading to the furloughs of 805 of 825 regional EPA workers in New England, but it is unclear whether that would happen this time.

Mail: The Postal Service is self-funded and will not be affected.

Tourist sites: National parks and sites will be closed. At least a dozen sites would be affected locally, including the Lowell National Historic Park, the John F. Kennedy birthplace in Brookline, the Adams National Historic Park in Quincy, the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, and the Longfellow House in Cambridge.