The sun begins to rise behind the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument on Sept. 30, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
(Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - As the federal government lurches into a partial shutdown, Americans are trying to figure out how it will affect them.
Sunday, USA TODAY broke down 66 questions and answers about the government shutdown. Here are more 27 more answers to commonly asked questions:
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67. What's a furlough? Unpaid leave. Or, in the official definition from the Office of Personnel Management: "A furlough is the placing of an employee in a temporary non-duty, nonpay status because of lack of work or funds, or other nondisciplinary reasons."
68. Will Congress cancel any scheduled hearings? Yes, but with exceptions. Before a threatened shutdown in 2011, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee tweeted that oversight is a constitutional responsibility and should continue through a shutdown. "If gov't shuts down, we won't. I believe those who choose to come into work fall under my constitutional arm," Rep, Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said. This week, the committee has scheduled two hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, although a third hearing on state marijuana laws has been canceled.
69. Will members of Congress close their district offices? Guidance from the House Administration Committee says that only staffers who are needed for members to carry out their constitutional responsibilities - writing laws, voting and communicating with constituents - will continue to work. But members are interpreting that guidance differently. Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., is closing district offices. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is expanding office hours.
70. Will federal courts be closed? The federal judiciary would remain open for at least 10 days, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. All scheduled court dates will continue, and federal employees preparing for trials are exempted. If a shutdown lasts through mid-October, the courts would reassess the situation.
71. What about the Supreme Court? It's open at least through Oct. 4 - and remains one of the few public buildings in D.C. still open to visitors. Oral arguments for the new fall term begin next Monday and are likely to go forward as scheduled.
72. What about the U.S. Tax Court? Closed, although the court accepts filings until noon Tuesday. The Tax Court, which hears disputes between the IRS and taxpayers, is technically in the legislative branch of government. Also, IRS tax audits would be suspended. Due dates would be extended by the length of the shutdown, although new filings must still be postmarked within 90 days of an IRS notice of deficiency.
73. Will there be longer lines at the airport? Initially, no. The Transportation Security Administration says air passenger screening is "necessary for safety of life and protection of property" and all screeners are exempted. Training - including ongoing training on privacy and civil liberties - will cease, however.
74. What about federal air marshals? They will continue to work, although no one would know if they didn't because the number of air marshals is classified.
75. What about Federal Aviation Administration inspectors? "Aviation safety inspectors will be off the job at midnight," Mike Perrone, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union, said before the shutdown. That wouldn't immediately delay flights, but could result in grounded planes as inspections become due. Also, long-term projects like the Dreamliner certification would be delayed.
76. Will Amtrak trains continue to run? Yes, for now. A statement from the federally subsidized rail service said the trains would run during a "short-term federal government shutdown" in "the coming days or weeks."
77. Will the Consumer Product Safety Commission continue to issue product recalls? Yes, if the products "create an immediate threat to the safety of human life."
78. Will Freedom of Information Act requests be processed? No.
79. Will NASA continue to operate? "NASA will shut down almost entirely," President Obama said Monday. There are exceptions. Two American astronauts -Karen Nyberg and Mike Hopkins - are aboard the International Space Station with three Russians and an Italian. Mission Control in Houston will continue to support them. Popular NASA websites would shut down.
80. What about the National Zoo's Giant Panda Cam? "None of our live animal cams will broadcast," said the zoo, which is run by the Smithsonian Institution. Animals will continue to be fully cared for.
81. Will a shutdown bring an increase in Washington's rat population? No. Some commentators have said Washington, D.C., rats would be one of the few clear winners in a shutdown, on the theory that they would feast on trash that isn't picked up. The District of Columbia's Department of Health confirms there was an increase in the rat population during the last shutdown, in 1995-96. This time around, Mayor Vincent Gray has deemed all city employees "essential," including sanitation workers.
82. Will student loans be impacted? Not in the short term. The 14 million students receiving direct federal student loans and Pell grants would continue to receive them, "dependent on the length of the lapse," the Department of Education says. A "skeletal" staff would be retained to run those programs.
83. How does the shutdown affect the schools and kids in special programs?It shouldn't. Schools are run by states with federal aid for programs such as special education. Congress has already appropriated $22 billion in state educational aid, but it hasn't been contractually awarded, or obligated, by the Department of Education. Those obligations began Tuesday. The Department of Education said delaying these funds could "significantly damage state and local program operations," and so will continue to employ staffers to process those grants.
84. What about Head Start? About 20 of the nation's 1,600 Head Start centers for preschoolers will have to close immediately, because their grants expired Tuesday. Most are in Florida. In the Tallahassee area, that would hit nearly 400 children, their families and 100 staffers.
85. Will federal retirees continue to get their pensions and health care? Yes. Those benefits are paid through trust funds that federal employees pay into. "There are sufficient amounts in these trust funds to operate them throughout the duration of any lapse in appropriations," the Office of Personnel Management says.
86. Will veterans still be able to get health care? Yes. The Department of Veterans Affairs has already been appropriated money from Congress. "This means that our hospitals, clinics and other health services will remain open," spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said.
87. What about other veterans' benefits? Pension, education and vocational rehabilitation payments will continue at least through late October, Dillon said. If the shutdown lasted longer, the programs could be suspended.
88. Can I still get a Small Business Administration loan? No. The only program that the SBA will continue to operate is the Disaster Loan Program.
89. I have a government benefit check I haven't cashed. Is it still good? Yes. The shutdown applies only to the government's ability to make new payments.
90. Why aren't military salaries considered mandatory spending? "Mandatory" and "discretionary" are congressional terms that apply to how Congress spends the money, but has nothing to do with the importance of the spending. Mandatory spending includes programs like Social Security and Medicare, which have separate sources of funding and run automatically. Discretionary spending includes anything that Congress spends year-to-year with tax revenue and borrowed money. On Monday, President Obama signed a law ensuring active-duty and reserve military would be paid during a shutdown.
91. Will military health care be impacted? Military hospitals and health and dental clinics could be limited to treatment for active-duty servicemembers only, or for acute care and emergencies for other patients. Tricare coverage is not expected to be immediately affected because contracts for the Tricare providers are not limited to a single year.
92. Will government websites shut down? Most websites continued to operate Tuesday morning, though some agencies, like the Federal Trade Commission and the National Park Service, began replacing their front pages with "splash" pages. Some agencies may leave their sites up, but there won't be tech support to fix them if they break. Websites necessary for critical government functions will still operate, but won't be updated. The IRS website is one of those.
93. What is one of the most bizarre government program canceled by the government shutdown? The Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, N.J., has furloughed its poison ivy-eating goats.
Contributing: Bart Jansen; Brian Tumulty of Gannett News Service; Rick Maze of Military Times.
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