What’s Open, What’s Not, and Who’s Hanging Around
by Johnnie Grant –
The federal shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, 2018, still lingers while President Trump and congressional Democrats try to resolve their impasse —with no discernible progress. The president has told Democratic leaders he was willing to have the government shut down for “years” over border wall funding.
Many agencies have already been funded, and only about a quarter of the government is affected. However, the trickle-down effect of this partial shutdown will resonate with people for years to come. So while we wonder when this will end and who else (besides government employees) will eventually feel the pinch, here is a list of federal agencies affected.
The Smithsonian Institution, which consists of nineteen museums and galleries, shut down Jan. 2. The National Zoological Park is closed, although animals are still being cared for by workers. The highly coveted exhibits—including the Oprah Winfrey retrospective at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the presidential portrait of Barack Obama at the National Portrait Gallery—will reopen after funding is restored.
Many national parks have also closed, but several remain open during the shutdown, albeit without services. Sanitary conditions are rapidly deteriorating, with restroom toilets overflowing and trash piling up. At Yellowstone Park, private tour companies are performing some maintenance, enabling them to continue operating throughout the shutdown, if necessary. Forest Service law enforcement and emergency response efforts will continue.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
The IRS has mostly stopped working. Only 12% of its staff are working—without pay. Employees who are working are focused on security and technology, not on taxpayers’ refunds. The IRS is not updating forms or answering phone help lines during the shutdown. President Trump announced on Jan. 9 that he had directed the Secretary of the Treasury to recall enough IRS personnel to issue refunds on schedule. On the other hand, anyone hoping that a shutdown means they’ll get by without paying their taxes will be disappointed. The agency’s website says taxpayers “should file and pay their taxes (and IRS bill) as normal.”
U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, which deals with naturalization and citizenship, has been uninterrupted because its operations are funded by user fees.
Immigration courts have closed, forcing judges to indefinitely postpone hearings scheduled months ago. There’s already a backlog of over 800,000 cases. E-Verify, the government immigration system and database which is used to check and confirm employees who are eligible to work in the United States, is out of service during the shutdown. It typically takes just a few seconds for E-Verify to compare an employee’s records against DHS and Social Security records.
U.S. Postal Services
Post offices will remain operational and mail delivery will continue. USPS is funded by independent sources of revenue, including the sales of products and services, so it’s not impacted by any kind of shutdown.
Passport services will still be offered during the shutdown. Passports can be renewed by mail or in person at passport agencies, post offices, libraries and other facilities; and processing times are expected to remain unchanged.
Federal courts are still open and operating through January 11, 2019. Should the shutdown extend beyond that date, the courts will continue to operate under the Anti-Deficiency Act, in support of Article III powers. However, staffing may be reduced.
The Department of Veteran Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs has already secured its funding, so veterans hospitals will maintain their routine operations. Veteran disability pay and GI Bill benefits are funded by their own legislation separate from the annual appropriations bills, so Veterans will receive their benefits.
Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service are affected. Most employees are deemed “essential,” so they are working “without pay” until a funding bill is passed. TSA, however, has seen an increase in sick calls (“the blu-flu”) since the shutdown started. Air travel is being affected by this flu phenomenon at major terminals.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation will continue because it does not depend on a congressional appropriation for its funding.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
USDA services related to law enforcement and “the protection of life and property,” and those that are “financed through available funding”—such as a mandatory appropriation or user fees—will continue. Meat, poultry, and eggs will continue to be inspected, as will grain and other agriculture commodities.
USDA – Food Stamp Benefits
People will still be able to get food stamps and subsidized lunches, at least in the short term. But it depends on how long the shutdown lasts.
Nutrition benefits like SNAP will be available through January. Other nutrition assistance programs may operate with state and local funding resources that are available, but no other federal funding will be provided during the shutdown. Child nutrition programs, like School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, will keep operating into February.
Housing and Urban Development
7,500 employees are deemed “non-essential,” with only about 340 working. Nearly 1,000 others may be called in for specific tasks, for which they will not be paid until a funding bill is passed. Public housing authorities and tribally designated housing entities are not part of the federal government and are not required to shut down. But, the federal government provides some of their funding, so they may need to reduce or change operating hours.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau are not publishing economic data, including key figures on gross domestic product, inflation, personal income, spending, trade, and new home sales during the shutdown.
Office of Personnel Management
The agency that oversees the federal workforce has offered advice to workers on how to deal with landlords, mortgage lenders, and other creditors. It includes sample letters with language explaining severe reductions in income due to the lack of federal funding for departments and agencies.
Federal Communications Commission
The FCC, which regulates interstate communications, including radio and television broadcast and cable systems, stated, “All FCC activities ceased as of mid-day Thursday, January 3.” Work for “the protection of life and property” will continue. So will operations at the agency’s Office of Inspector General.
Executive Office of the President
An estimated 1,100 of the office’s 1,800 employees are on furlough. This includes most of the Office of Management and Budget, which helps implement budget and policy goals.