Government shutdown Q&A: What about Obamacare and food stamps?

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Government agencies have shut down because Congress has failed to pass the necessary money bills, known as appropriations, needed to keep them open. What’s the impact?

Q: Will mail delivery and post offices keep operating as usual?

A: Yes. The Postal Service is a quasi-independent entity and does not depend on annual appropriations, so its business will continue as usual.

Q: How about Social Security, Medicare and Medi-Cal?

A: Those programs will also continue, with checks being sent out as normal. They do not rely on annual appropriations. But there may be delays in processing new enrollments and dealing with questions about benefits.


FULL COVERAGE: Obamacare and the shutdown

Q: What about nutrition programs such as food stamps and school lunches?

A: The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), will continue. Child nutrition programs, including school lunches, are funded at least through October.

Q: How about Obamacare?

A: The new federal healthcare law, which is at the center of the standoff in Washington, continues unaffected as well. New online marketplaces, which people who do not have insurance can use to buy coverage, opened for business on Tuesday although some experienced start-up problems.

Q: Seems like a lot of things that directly affect individuals won’t be affected by the shutdown. Is that correct?

A: Right. That’s a fundamental truth about the federal government. State and local governments provide a lot of services to people -- schools, highways, water, sanitation and the like are all state and local responsibilities. The federal government handles a few huge benefit programs, which, as we noted, are not affected. But most of what the federal government does in domestic policy -- overseeing grants and contracts and regulating businesses, for example, remains at least one step removed from everyday life.

Q: How about national parks?

A: Federal parks and monuments will all be closed. Those are probably the most visible federal activities affected by the shutdown, which means they will be getting a lot of attention over the next several days.


Q: What’s the effect of all this on the economy?

A: If the shutdown lasts only a few days, probably not a lot. But several hundred thousand civilian workers won’t get paychecks while the shutdown lasts, and that will take money out of the economy. Moody’s Analytics estimates the impact on incomes at about $200 million per day nationwide. If the shutdown lasted three or four weeks, Moody’s estimates, economic growth would be cut in half during the fourth quarter of the year.

Q: Will federal workers get paid retroactively once the shutdown ends?

A: Those who are required to work will be paid once the shutdown is over. Those who are furloughed -- roughly 800,000 workers, according to government estimates -- will get paid only if Congress decides to approve retroactive pay. Congress did so in previous shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, but there is no guarantee.

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