From national parks, to home loans, to the National Zoo in D.C., there will be a small, but noticeable, impact almost immediately.
Update 11:16 p.m. At this point, The Washington Post is already calling a shutdown starting Tuesday a sure thing. Looks like this is definitely happening, though for how long, only the House of Representatives knows.
What impact will the impending shutdown of the federal government have on you where you live? For starters, no resident of any city in America (or the wider world) will be able to watch streaming footage from the National Zoo's panda cam. While critters at Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., will continue to be cared for, the entire zoo facility will be closed to the public. Panda addicts can hold candlelight vigils in front of the zoo gates. Panda enemies should probably sleep with one eye open.
But let's take a closer look at how else and who else will be affected across the country:
Tourists, history buffs, nature lovers: Sadly, what's true for the National Zoo will be true for other national recreation facilities. Parks, landmarks, monuments, and museums operated by the federal government will definitely close in the event of a shutdown. As the AP notes, that list includes "the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Alcatraz Island near San Francisco and the Washington Monument," as well as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mammoth Cave, Yellowstone, the Everglades and many, many others. The National Park Service says that in the event of a shutdown, day visitors will be made to leave immediately, while campers will have 48 hours to depart.
Social Security beneficiaries: If you're currently getting checks from the Social Security Administration, you'll continue to get checks during a shutdown. You'll actually be able to do a lot of other things, too, according to the SSA's website: Apply for benefits, report a death, verify or change citizenship status, change a representative payee, replace a lost or missing social security payment, and a few other things. What you won't be able to do: Get a new or replacement Social Security of Medicare card. So don't lose yours!
Air travelers: TSA screeners are considered essential employees, so they'll remain on the job in the event of a shutdown. Same goes for air traffic controllers. A TSA spokesperson doesn't expect security line waiting times to increase, but said it was really "TBD." The State Department will process passport applications until it runs out of money, and unless "a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations." Depending on how long the shutdown lasts, it's very possible your application won't get processed. During the two government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, which totaled 26 days combined, "the State Department had to let some 200,000 passport applications from Americans gather dust."
Federal workers around the country: Furloughs of non-essential federal employees won't just affect D.C. and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Cities around the country host full-time, non-Post Office federal employee populations. New York is home to 26,696 federal employees; Atlanta is home to 23,718; Philadelphia is home to 19,940; Chicago has 16,069; Houston has 15,530; and Los Angeles has 14,689. The list of the top 50 cities with the highest federal employment is here.
Department of Transportation grantees: If your transportation project is dependent on DOT funds, you might want to pause it. According to the DOT-issued guidance from 2011 (the last time we faced a possible government shutdown), "No grants, cooperative agreements, contracts, purchase orders, travel authorizations, or other documents obligating funds will be executed to any of the FTA’s 1300 grantees." That year, the DOT was paying out roughly $270 million a week to grantees.
Applicants seeking gun permits, business loans, passports, and home loans: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives will likely not process applications for gun permits and the Small Business Administration will likely not process applications for small business loans. If you're applying for a federally backed home loan during the shutdown, that probably won't get processed either. According to guidance issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Housing Administration "will be unable to endorse any single-family loans and FHA staff will be unavailable to underwrite and approve new loans."
People who are being audited by the IRS: Congratulations! You will get to spend the entire shutdown not being audited/wondering what will happen to you when the audit resumes.
People who live in Washington, D.C.: As Brad Plumer of the Washington Post writes, the District of Columbia always stands to get screwed in a government shutdown, as "it is the only city barred from spending funds during a federal government shutdown, save for a few select services." While Mayor Vince Gray has promised to keep the city running despite a shutdown by declaring all city functions "essential," it's not totally clear whether he will be able to get away with this, so there's still a decent chance that come shutdown, first responders will make up the bulk of D.C.'s non-furloughed employees, and that trash might not be collected for a short period of time. The city has an emergency fund of $144 million that could last roughly nine days. "Unless somebody takes me out in handcuffs," Gray said earlier today, "I’m not shutting down anything."
What will continue to happen: If your city, town, or hamlet hosts a border patrol facility, a federal prison, or an air traffic control tower, all those things will continue to run, probably at full capacity. Your mail will still get delivered because the U.S. Post Office almost kinda pays for itself. The NSA will still spy on you. The DEA will still bust you for drugs. (In fact, roughly 80 percent of the Department of Justice will be exempt from furloughs.) Active-duty soldiers will soldier on, though they may not get paid until after the shutdown ends. NASA will keep enough people around to monitor the International Space Station, and the National Weather Service will continue to monitor the weather. "The scientific work of the U.S. Geological Survey would be halted," but green card application processing will not.
Top image: Tian Tian, a giant panda at the National Zoo, eats bamboo. Due to the government shutdown, Tian Tian will have no one to perform for, and very well could sink into an irreversible depression. (OK, we made that up.) REUTERS/Gary Cameron