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What is US govt shutdown? How does it hit people?

Last updated on: April 8, 2011 16:42 IST

What is US govt shutdown? How does it hit people?

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Even as the United States braced for a government shutdown as the fourth meeting between President Barack Obama and the Congressional leadership in less than 48 hours failed to end the impasse over a spending plan for the rest of the financial year.

Talking to reporters on Thursday night, immediately after the meeting with the House of Representative Speaker John Boehner and the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Obama said they have been able to narrow the differences, but not enough to avoid the government shutdown.

"We have narrowed the issues, however, we have not yet reached an agreement. We will continue to work through the night to attempt to resolve our remaining differences," Boehner and Reid said in a statement following the meeting.

Obama said, "But there is still a few issues that are outstanding. They're difficult issues. They're important to both sides.  And so I'm not yet prepared to express wild optimism. But I think we are further along today than we were yesterday," Obama said.

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Image: US President Barack Obama's personal assistant Reggie Love carries a photograph of Obama.
Photographs: Reuters
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What is US govt shutdown? How does it hit people?

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What is a US govt shutdown?

In the United States, when the government stops providing what are loosely termed as 'non-essential' services a shutdown is said to have occurred.

Essential services comprise law and order, defence, air traffic, firefighting, etc.

A government shutdown occurs in the United States when the legislative body cannot come to a common ground to agree on budget financing of the government's various programmes.

When the budget is not passed, the government has no access to appropriated funds and thus it is left with no other recourse but to discontinue providing non-essential services.

If the US Congress passes all of the spending bills related to the US budget, the shutdown would be averted.

If agreement is not reached later on Friday, the US government shutdown will lead to a closure of several federally run operations and stop work for US government services, unless they are deemed essential.

However, some agencies might stay open by running on cash reserves, but as soon as they run out of funds they too will shut down.

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Image: President Obama's FY2012 budget proposal sits on a table.
Photographs: Reuters
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What is US govt shutdown? How does it hit people?

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So how does it affect the American people?

The US Congress would force a government shutdown on April 8, 2011 if their plan to reduce the U.S. federal budget deficit is not resolved.

This could leave 800,000 furloughed workers without a job, out of 2 million civilian federal employees.

Americans who work for the government and are a part of the essential services will have to continue to keep working, although they would not get their pay till the shutdown is lifted.

Post offices, courts, etc will remain open too.

Those who are engaged in work elsewhere will initially not notice the shutdown too much. However, they will need to file their tax returns (as it is that time of the year) but will not get their refunds. However, those who receive Social Security cheques will continue to get them.

A shutdown will disrupt everything: from family vacations and small businesses that rely on tourism to renewable energy projects.

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Image: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).
Photographs: Reuters
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What is US govt shutdown? How does it hit people?

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Govt employees

Quite a few of the US federal government's 1.9 million employees could be furloughed (laid off or suspended), especially if they are in the 'non-essential services' category. Furloughed employees will face uncertainty about the next salary at a time when many families are getting by on one income instead of two, or are stretching their budgets to make mortgage payments

This could disrupt all US services, except armed forces and national defence, emergency medical care and air traffic control.

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Image: People hold a rally to support preventive healthcare and family planning services in the US.
Photographs: Reuters
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What is US govt shutdown? How does it hit people?

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American states will suffer

With the US federal government unable to get its hands on funds if a shutdown does occur, many of the American states which are cash-strapped and depend on federal aid will have a very difficult time. This will affect various development, research, educational, etc programmes in these states.

Some states thus could also see a shutdown of their own due to budgeting problems.

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Image: Thousands of college students and faculty protest at the State Capitol in Sacramento over balancing the budget.
Photographs: Reuters
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What is US govt shutdown? How does it hit people?

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Healthcare

New patients might not be admitted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health clinical center; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ceased disease surveillance, and hotline calls to NIH concerning diseases might go answered. Even toxic waste cleanup work might halt.

Tourism could be badly affected

Closure of national park service sites, national museums and monuments might affect tourism badly.

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Image: A US staffer places charts in place on stage.
Photographs: Reuters
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Emergency visas only if US govt shuts down

As the Obama Administration braced itself for a possible shutdown, the White House has said that all American missions abroad would work at a low capacity and only emergency visa applications would be processed during that period.

"Embassies and consulates will continue to operate at lower levels of service. Only emergency passports; so regular passports and visas will not be processed," the Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients, told reporters at a White House news conference.

"In the event of a shutdown, the (State) Department will provide limited emergency visas only. And in the event that we should have to cancel visa appointments, we'll make every effort to notify visa applicants as soon as possible," the State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Toner advised visa applicants to check their website --- travel, state and government, before their scheduled interviews.

Though hopeful that a government shutdown will be averted, the Pentagon released guidance to help plan for an orderly process if a shutdown becomes necessary, Deputy Defence Secretary William J Lynn said in a memo.

"The President and the [Defence] Secretary [Robert Gates] know that the uncertainty of the current situation puts federal employees in a difficult position and are very much aware that a shutdown would impose hardships on our military and civilian personnel as well as our military families," he wrote.

Earlier in the day, Zients said if there is a shutdown it would have very real effects on the services the American people rely on, as well as on the economy as a whole.


Image: US President Barack Obama speaks about the budget.
Photographs: Reuters
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