Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 2, 2013

CALVIN WOODWARD: What's changing, what's not, in a shutdown

The longer it lasts, the more it will be felt by everyday people.

By Calvin Woodward Associated Press
Kokomo Tribune

---- — WASHINGTON — Campers in national parks are to pull up stakes and leave, some veterans waiting to have disability benefits approved will have to cool their heels even longer, many routine food inspections will be suspended and panda-cams will go dark at the shuttered National Zoo.

Those are among the immediate effects after parts of the government shut Tuesday because of the budget impasse in Congress.

In this time of argument and political gridlock, a blueprint to manage federal dysfunction is one function that appears to have gone smoothly. Throughout government, plans are ready to roll out to keep essential services running and numb the impact for the public. The longer a shutdown goes on, the more it will be felt.

A look at what is bound to happen, and what probably won’t:

•••

This: The Board of Veterans Appeals will stop issuing rulings, meaning decisions about some disability claims by veterans will wait even longer than usual. Interments at national cemeteries will slow. If a shutdown drags on for weeks, disability and pension payments may be interrupted.

But not this: Most Department of Veterans Affairs services will continue; 95 percent of staff are either exempted from a shutdown or have the budget to keep paying them already in place. The department’s health programs get their money a year in advance, so veterans can still see their doctor, get prescriptions filled and visit fully operational VA hospitals and outpatient clinics. Claims workers can process benefit payments until late in October, when that money starts to run out.

•••

This: Complaints from airline passengers to the government will fall on deaf ears. The government won’t be able to do new car safety testing and ratings or handle automobile recall information. Internal Transportation Department investigations of waste and fraud will be put on ice, and progress will be slowed on replacing the country’s radar-based air traffic system with GPS-based navigation. Most accident investigators who respond to air crashes, train collisions, pipeline explosions and other accidents will be furloughed.

Kristie Greco, speaking for the Federal Aviation Administration, said nearly 2,500 safety office personnel will be furloughed but may be called back incrementally over the next two weeks. The union representing aviation safety inspectors said it was told by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta that nearly 3,000 inspectors will be off work. Greco did not confirm that.

But not this: Air traffic controllers and many of the technicians who keep air traffic equipment working will remain on the job. Amtrak says it can continue normal operations for a while, relying on ticket revenue, but will suffer without federal subsidies over the longer term. FAA employees who make grants to airports, most Federal Highway Administration workers and federal bus and truck safety inspectors will also stay on the job because they are paid with user fees. Railroad and pipeline safety inspectors will also remain at work.

•••

This: About half the Defense Department’s civilian employees will be furloughed.

But not this: The 1.4 million active-duty military personnel stay on duty and under a last-minute bill, they should keep getting paychecks on time. Most Homeland Security agents and border officers, as well as other law enforcement agents and officers, keep working.

•••

This: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, could shut down. It provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, mothers and their children.

But not this: School lunches and breakfasts will continue to be served, and food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will still be distributed.

•••

This: A shutdown that lasts two weeks or more would probably start to slow an already sluggish economy, analysts say. Closures of national parks would hurt hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses. And federal workers who lost pay would spend less, thereby curbing economic growth. A three-week shutdown would slow the economy’s annual growth rate in the October-December quarter by up to 0.9 of a percentage point, Goldman Sachs has estimated. If so, that could mean a growth rate of 1.6 percent, compared with the 2.5 percent that many economists now forecast.

But not this: Little impact on the economy if the shutdown only lasts a few days.