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Financial Consequences of the Government Shutdown

Kimberly Rotter



As the government shutdown of 2013 drags on, more and more of us are affected. First were the several hundred thousand federal employees deemed “non-essential” who will go without their regular paychecks until Congress passes a budget  to pay its bills. But the shutdown potentially affects millions more in ripple effects that are yet to be fully quantified and are sure to last.

Here’s a look at some of the actual monetary impact average Americans — not just government employees — are experiencing right now.

Many — in public and private sectors — can’t work

Although crabbing season began this week, professional crabbers are stuck in port. They can’t obtain the permits they need because the federal workers who issue them are furloughed.

Federal courts will run out of money this week to pay court-appointed lawyers.

Researchers in academia are unable to apply for funding grants or access government databases online. Journalists and others whose jobs depend at least partially on research normally made available by government agencies are also affected. The USDA, for example, has taken down its website until “non-essential” staff are once again available to maintain it.

Employees at companies that depend on government contract money, like Lockheed Martin, could find themselves temporarily laid-off.

No childcare or food

In some communities, Head Start programs have closed, forcing working adults to take time off work or find alternate, often costly, arrangements for childcare.

Some retailers have stopped accepting Women, Infants and Children (WIC) vouchers as payment for food for low-income women and children, suspecting that the vouchers will be worthless as a result of the shutdown. WIC is currently operating on reserves.

Many free or reduced cost lunch programs nationwide will run out of funding by the end of October.

Tourism cancelled

National parks and monuments are closed, but states currently have the option of reopening them at state expense. Utah, Colorado and Arizona have re-opened several national parks at their expense, but many states do not have funds available to cover such unplanned costs. Closed parks mean a potential loss of thousands of dollars for families who had planned vacations, and purchased non-refundable airfares and hotel rooms. The shutdown also translates to an untold loss of tourism dollars for local businesses that depend on visitor traffic (by some estimates, up to $76 million per day).

Financing slowed or halted

Social Security, welfare and disability payments continue to be made in most places, but new applications will be stalled.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is not currently funding rental assistance to low-income Americans. Public housing authorities are operating on a buffer that will last till the end of the year. If the shutdown persists, money will run out.

In Arizona, financial assistance to low-income families has been halted.

[More from Manilla.com: How to Conserve Your Money if You've Been Furloughed]

For those in the process of buying a home, mortgage applications could be delayed or declined, as lenders struggle to verify income and social security data. Verifications are required per new lending rules. Furloughs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development mean much less staff to handle the FHA loan applications. Applicants could lose their rate-locks, resulting in a higher interest rate on the loan, possibly adding tens of thousands of dollars in extra cost over the life of the loan.

If you’re expecting a tax refund, prepare to wait.  But if you filed for an extension to Oct. 15, the deadline still applies. Got tax questions? No one is available to answer them. The IRS call center is closed.

Service members taking college courses during off-duty hours will not receive tuition payments during the shutdown. That could force some to withdraw from school or go into default if they depend on the tuition assistance to arrive before the bill comes due.

Small Business Administration loans will not be funded during the shutdown.

Medical treatments halted – new patients hit worst

New patients are not being accepted in government-funded clinical research trials and studies. Although this is not likely to have an economic consequence, it could mean the difference between life and death for patients who have no other treatment options.

Although funding for Medicare and VA hospitals does not depend on congressional appropriations, much of the staff that processes new paperwork are non-essential and currently furloughed.

A free clinic in Alabama is turning away new patients because the Social Security Administration is not issuing social security cards or proof of income letters, which are required to determine eligibility.

What it means for you and me

This list is not exhaustive. The government shutdown has a far-reaching ripple effect that hurts the finances of millions of American families, and will continue to do so for some time. Even if you don’t have a government job, realize that you could easily be caught up in the net of consequences of the shutdown.

What you can do in the meantime

The important thing to do is to be conservative with your money. Keep a close watch on the progress of any financing needs that you currently have. Check to make sure you have adequate funds in your emergency savings account in case it’s something you need to fall back on.

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