Politics & Government

Don’t miss jury duty and thank your TSA agent. How the government shutdown affects you

What happens when the government shuts down?

The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.
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The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.

It’s been a week-and-a-half since the federal government shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of government employees without pay — and millions of Americans bereft of services.

President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remain at a deadlock over funding for a proposed border wall, and it could be weeks before the U.S. government reopens. The longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely that it will touch on the lives of the average American. Here’s a look:

Are federal workers being paid? Will they be paid?

More than 400,000 federal employees are working without pay during the shutdown, while another 380,000 employees are on unpaid furlough, according to the American Federation of Government Employees.

Although they will be entitled to back pay when the shutdown ends, the AFGE filed a lawsuit Monday demanding that the government pay owed wages. The lawsuit’s plaintiffs work for federal prisons in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Most government contractors, however, might not be compensated for wages lost during the shutdown, according to SEIU 32BJ, a union that represents custodians and other contractors.

What about my federal benefits?

While many government services are unavailable, federal programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits will continue to issue payments during the shutdown, Newsweek reports.

Likewise, active and retired members of the military can still access Veterans Affairs benefits. NPR reports that 95.5 percent of VA employees are exempt from the shutdown.

How will the shutdown affect my travel plans?

Air travel will likely be unaffected by the shutdown.

Federal transportation personnel, such as air traffic controllers, and Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Agency officers are still on the job, though the Huffington Post reports morale is low among unpaid TSA officers.

“Most of us live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to be unpaid and still go to work for long. It is not fair,” one TSA employee told Huffington Post.

Other unpaid workers include about 5,000 federal firefighters, 54,000 border patrol agents, 42,000 Coast Guard employees and 13,700 FBI agents, according to Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The State Department’s Passport Services remains open during the shutdown, for those planning to travel overseas.

Can I still visit national parks, forests and refuges?

The good news is that, for the time being, most national parks are open, albeit sparsely staffed. Despite the shutdown, Yosemite’s hospitality services — and winter activities like skiing — remain available.

The bad news is that you might want to wait for the shutdown to end. Iconic national parks like Yosemite and Joshua Tree have been plagued with vandalism, littering and overflowing toilets since most National Park Service staff were sent home without pay.

Images of the problems with human waste and trash due to a partial federal government shutdown are seen on social media.

In addition, the National Park Service has warned that campground reservations during the shutdown might not be honored if there is insufficient staffing.

Also, some key roads near national parks are closed, or offer only limited access, during the shutdown. That includes the Highway 41 route into Yosemite, which is open only to residents and visitors with reservations at lodging or campgrounds within the park.

National parks might be open, but the U.S. Department of Interior has closed the entire National Wildlife Refuge system. Exceptions to that closure include waterfowl production areas and anywhere “where public access to refuge lands does not require the presence of a federal employee or contractor.” That means bird watchers should be able to visit sites that important to them.

National forests likewise will remain open to special use permit holders for activities that do not require the presence of federal employees. However, the Forest Service will not accept applications for special use permits during the shutdown.

I have federal jury duty, should I show up?

If you get a federal jury duty summons in the mail, you should still show up.

The federal judiciary has enough revenue independent of federal appropriations dollars to remain functional for up to three weeks. Hearings and other proceedings will be held as scheduled, unless an attorney from an executive branch agency is unavailable due to furlough.

If the shutdown lasts longer than three weeks, the court system will be reduced to only handling the most necessary matters, with all other hearings postponed indefinitely.

“Each court and federal defender’s office would determine the staffing resources necessary to to support such work,” according to a statement from the U.S. Courts system.

The shutdown deals an especially severe blow to the overworked immigration courts, which CBS News reports have a backlog of more than 800,000 cases.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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