5 Ways the Government Shutdown Could Affect You

5 Ways the Government Shutdown Could Affect You

Unless you’re among the estimated 1 million furloughed federal government employees, you probably haven’t felt the effects of the government shutdown aside from missing the National Zoo’s Panda Cam. (Just us?)

But the sprawling responsibilities of the government mean you might have been hit in ways you didn’t even notice—and as the standoff in Congress continues, the effects will worsen.  “Not everything turned off [last week], but soon even state and local governments that get federal funding will start feeling the pinch as well,” says Gerald Epstein, Ph.D., co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Here are five surprising ways the federal shutdown could impact your life:

If you want to retire someday:
How is the shutdown affecting the economy? Hard to say, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics isn’t currently collecting data on unemployment or the consumer price index (CPI). In fact, the monthly jobs report for September was supposed to be released last week, and the latest CPI numbers are now slated for October 16. “Financial markets obsessively look at these data on a continuous basis to try to get a jump on forecasting interest rates, inflation, economic growth, and what interest rate policy the Federal Reserve might set,” says Epstein. Over the next several weeks, the lack of data could affect the value of the mutual funds and bonds in your IRA or 401k.

If you need to pay taxes:
Anyone who filed a tax extension this year still owes their money to the non-operating government by October 15. Never mind that the IRS tax assistance offices are closed, the toll-free IRS hotline is closed, and hard-copy returns won’t even be processed until the government reopens. (The IRS suggests trying to e-file your taxes during the shutdown). And if you overpaid and the government owes you money? “Tax refunds will not be issued until government operations resumed,” the IRS website says.

If you want to avoid getting sick:
Fall is typically the ideal time for an annual flu shot to head off the peak season for the virus in winter.  But the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that monitors the effectiveness of the vaccine is no longer active. Although the vaccine has already been distributed, right now the CDC can’t assess whether it works against the strains that are actually making people sick this year, or whether regions most impacted by the flu have adequate supplies.

If you’re a veteran:
Combat-wounded veterans who are waiting for their benefits won’t see them any time soon, since progress on their applications has been slowed thanks to a lack of resources. “There are 436,000 claims backlogged in the Veterans Administration (VA) inventory, and they’ll have to furlough claims processors if the cash on hand runs out,” says Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. If the shutdown drags on through the end of October, the VA will have to stop paying out benefits entirely, including living stipends for GI Bill students and wounded veterans who are too disabled to work.

If you’re a student or scientist:
Research universities across the country depend on funding and grants from several government sources, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation—which aren’t making payments during the shutdown. What’s more, without the Library of Congress to help standardize the wide variety of research materials collected every day—including books, articles, historical documents, and photographs—librarians could be without access to the cataloging tools that put information in the hands of researchers. “Someone might not know an important item exists, because it’s not appearing anywhere,” says Xin Li, associate university librarian at Cornell University.


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