published Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Despite U.S. government shutdown, many services are intact

People walk near Capitol Hill in Washington.
People walk near Capitol Hill in Washington.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The government is shut down, the headlines say. But in reality, shutdown may be too strong a word. Many services deemed essential could continue indefinitely, and other programs could live on as long as money exists to fund them. In fact, more than half of the estimated 2.1 million federal employees are still reporting for duty every day, according to estimates by the American Federation of Government employees, and many essential programs will continue as long as they bring in sufficient fees to pay the bills.

Q. If background checks are legally required for gun purchases and the government is shut down, can I still buy a gun?

A. Despite some media reports that gun sales would be halted by the shutdown, Chattanooga gun dealers report that the National Instant Background Check system is fully operational. There are no delays for customers who want to buy guns or get state concealed-carry permits, according to Shooter’s Depot on Shallowford Road.

Source: Shooter’s Depot

Q. I plan to take a stroll through the Chickamauga Battlefield. A federal shutdown can’t stop me from walking in the woods, can it?

A. In fact, it can. Park officials spent the initial days of the shutdown erecting barricades and signs to discourage visitors from trespassing on national park property, except in case of through traffic, such as on the stretch of U.S. Highway 27 that passes through Chickamauga Battlefield.

Source: News reports

Q. Does the shutdown mean I don’t have to pay taxes?

A. Taxes are still due and will be processed, while nonpayment will continue to be prosecuted, though the IRS has stopped auditing taxpayers. Tax refunds will be delayed until the shutdown is over, but IRS agents charged with seizing assets of delinquent taxpayers are still at work. According to the IRS contingency plan, 3,505 criminal investigators will continue to work, while employees deemed nonessential, such as every employee in the agency’s whistleblower office, will be furloughed.

Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury, news reports

Q. Should I hold off on buying meat until health inspectors go back to work?

A. Three three main agencies inspect food: the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. While animal researchers from the Department of Health and Human Services will continue, inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration, including “safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs … and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making” will all cease. The Department of Agriculture, on the other hand, will continue to inspect meat and poultry, allowing Chattanooga-based Pilgrim’s Pride and Koch Foods to continue production.

Sources: Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, news reports

Q. Does my cousin, who is on leave from active-duty military service, get to stay home until this is over?

A. No. While pay could be delayed for some civilian contractors, who will be required in some cases to work without pay, and some benefits will slow down or be delayed, all officers and enlisted personnel are expected to report for duty as usual and can expect paychecks. Some benefits such as tuition assistance will end, but the “Pay Our Military Act” passed by Congress and signed by the president should protect pay for most soldiers and sailors.

Sources: Pay our Military Act, news reports

Q. What about food stamps, Social Security payments and unemployment?

A. Permanent entitlements such as Social Security or Medicaid are automatically funded without the need for Congress to act. Food stamps, which the government calls the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, will not expire until next year. The Department of Labor will continue to pay unemployment benefits, and the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will continue its rollout since it is now a permanent program.

Q. I just got married and want to change my name. Can I still do that?

A. While Chattanooga’s Social Security office is still paying out benefits to retirees, it and many other federal agencies have suspended many services deemed less important. That includes a new Social Security card in a recently married woman’s new name, local employees say. Businesses seeking a federally backed loan, or families hoping to secure a federally backed mortgages also are out of luck, as those services have been deemed nonessential.

Sources: Department of Labor, news reports

— Compiled by staff writer Ellis Smith, esmith@timesfreepress.com

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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