Partial government shutdown: 8 common questions Americans have

The partial government shutdown that began on Dec. 22 stretched into its fourth week on Saturday as congressional leaders and President Trump remained at an impasse over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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And there’s still no end in sight. Trump, while meeting with Democratic leaders last week, reportedly threatened to shutdown the government for “months or even years.”

Most economists agree that brief shutdowns have little long-term effect on the economy, but on day 22 of the shutdown -- federal workers most likely missed their first paycheck on Friday -- some visible effects are beginning to show.

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about the shutdown.

Is this the longest government shutdown?

Yes. The shutdown dragged into its 22nd day on Saturday, officially becoming the longest in U.S. history. The previous longest budget impasse on record took place under President Bill Clinton in 1995. It lasted from Dec. 15, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996.

How will the shutdown affect things like Social Security?

Although most federal operations come to a halt (a result of the government losing its authority to spend money), services that are essential to national security and health continue to operate. That includes Social Security, veterans hospitals and the military.

Will I still get mail?

Yes, the U.S. Postal Service is an independent body and continues to operate during shutdowns.

Will I get my food stamps?

Yes. The Trump administration agreed to continue funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through February. However, as a result, millions of low-income Americans will get their February food stamps on Jan. 20, weeks earlier than usual in order to take advantage of a continuing resolution that temporarily funded the government. SNAP recipients normally receive their benefits in the first, second or even the third or fourth week of the month, according to Politico.

Individuals can still apply for SNAP benefits after Jan. 20.

Will I get my tax return?

Yes. The White House said on Monday that the Internal Revenue Service will still send out tax refunds in order to make the shutdown as “painless as possible” for citizens, in the event that it carries on into tax season. The refunds are not expected to be delayed.

That was a reversal of a traditional policy, in which Americans are required to pay taxes during shutdowns -- but don’t receive a refund.

The IRS did say recently that it recalled a “significant portion” of its employees, who are furloughed, but tax filing season will begin as scheduled on Jan. 28.

Can I still go to national parks?

It depends. The National Parks Service did not fully close down, but its services are limited. According to the NPS website, there’s a “closure” alert at 388 of the 737 parks, historic sites and national monuments it oversees.

To determine whether a specific national park is open, look up its individual web page at the NPS site and call the official number.

Although some national parks, including Yosemite and Joshua Tree in California, remained open, they’re making do with fewer resources – including restrooms. Because trash collection was suspended due to the shutdown, garbage and human waste are piling up in Yosemite, according to The Los Angeles Times, prompting the closure of two campgrounds.

“We’re afraid that we’re going to start seeing significant damage to the natural resources in parks and potentially to historic and other cultural artifacts,” John Garder, senior budget director of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, told The Associated Press. “We’re concerned there’ll be impacts to visitors’ safety.

On Jan. 2, the Smithsonian Institution also announced that all of its museums and the National Zoo will be closed because of the shutdown.

Will air travel be affected?

Yes - but you can still travel.

The problem is that the national’s airport security officers are among the workers not being paid during the shutdown. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – the largest federal employee union – which represents more than 44,000 TSA officers, said the uncertainty is causing “extreme financial hardships.”Unscheduled TSA absences have increased to 4.6 percent, compared to 3.8 percent during the year-ago period, according to a spokesperson.

As a result, some major airports in the U.S. are closing terminals, including Miami and Chicago.

What agencies are affected during the shutdown?

Because congressional leaders struck a bipartisan deal earlier this year to avoid a shutdown by funding three-fourths of the government into 2019, only certain agencies are affected by the funding lapse.

Most notably is the Department of Homeland Security, which is tasked with border security and is at the forefront of the funding debate. The other, less controversial agencies include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

That doesn’t necessarily mean all of those agencies are closed, however. In the event of a shutdown, the Office of Management and Budget issues guidance to each agency, which then develops its own shutdown plan. They must halt “non-essential” discretionary work; those so-called “non-essential” employees are not allowed to work during the shutdown.