6 Ways Government Shutdowns Hurt You (Even if You’re Not a Federal Worker)

Government shutdown
Clouds and fog roll across Washington as the budget standoff continues on Oct. 15, 2013. J. David Ake/AP Photo

Congress just passed a measure to fund the government through May 5, allowing negotiations on a spending bill to continue.

If they don’t reach an agreement by then, a government shutdown will occur. But even if we avoid a shutdown next week, there’s a good chance we’ll hear more talk of another potential shutdown as Oct. 1 — the deadline for Congress to pass a funding bill for all of 2018 —  approaches.

Even if you’re not a government employee, the screeching halt of federal operations can affect you.

Here’s what you need to know about how shutdowns work — and how your life could be affected one in the future.

What Happens During a Government Shutdown?

When a spending bill expires before Congress passes a new bill authorizing spending, the federal government shuts down most operations.

With spending stuck in limbo while all parties come to an agreement, the federal government runs out of money, forcing the closure.

During a government shutdown, “essential” services carry on. These include national security, law enforcement, emergency medical services, air traffic control and more.

But services considered “non-essential” stop — which can still affect your everyday life.

6 Things That Could be Tough During a Government Shutdown

Each government shutdown is different, but here are some things that could become more difficult or impossible if federal operations are forced to go on hold.

1. Planning a Trip to a National Park or Monument

You can’t go to a national park or monument during a shutdown — they’ll be closed. This includes national zoos and museums, too. According to Vox, the 2013 government shutdown cost $500 million in lost tourism income due to national park closure.

2. Getting a Passport

During the last shutdown, the State Department said: “The Department of State will continue passport and visa operations as well as provide critical services to U.S. citizens overseas. These activities are fee-funded and are not affected by the lapse in appropriations.”

We reached out to the National Passport Information Center, and the representative we spoke to said it’s unclear how a present-day shutdown would affect services, adding that “multiple factors” go into deciding whether you’ll still be able to obtain a passport during a shutdown.

3. Using Free School Lunch Programs

Thankfully, these will continue during a government shutdown — as long as it doesn’t last too long. If a shutdown goes on for an extended period, school districts might run out of funds to provide the free meals — as some districts worried would occur during the 2013 shutdown.

4. Signing up for New Social Security Benefits

Social Security benefits will continue going out to existing enrollees, but new applications for benefits may have to wait until after the shutdown to be processed.

5. Buying a Home

If you were planning to use a federal loan, like a Federal Housing Administration-insured or a Veterans Affairs loan, to purchase a house, the agencies will still process it — depending on a few factors.

During the 2013 government shutdown, the FHA released an FAQ stating it would still process single-family loans, though it warned that it could take extra time because of a reduced staff. Delays could occur for other reasons, like if you need to obtain documents from the IRS.

Are you a veteran? Thankfully, it’s unlikely that a shutdown would affect your VA loans.

6. Your Tax Refund

And, perhaps, the worst of all (considering we just passed tax day):

If you’re waiting for a tax refund from the IRS and the government shuts down, you’ll have to wait until it reopens to get your money.

Hopefully a shutdown isn’t in the near future — but if it is, now you know what to expect.

Your Turn: How would you be affected by a government shutdown?

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.