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Government shutdown: Helpful information for consumers

Consumer Reports News: April 08, 2011 04:23 PM

Tonight’s midnight deadline for a congressional budget is looming. If the federal government can't agree on terms and shuts down, it could affect family vacations, new applicants to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and access to federal websites.

Here are some things that could potentially affect you:

  • Social Security Distribution of current checks will not be affected, but new applications would not be processed. However, customer support would be shut down, so questions and concerns could go unanswered until the government was back up and running. On a similar note, current Medicare and Medicaid patients would not be affected. Only new enrollees would have their applications for benefits put on hold.

  • Travel documents
    If you are planning to travel abroad but have left renewing or getting your passport until the last minute, you might be out of luck. No passport applications would be accepted, and tomorrow's annual Passport Day (which gives nine-to-fivers a chance to process a passport) will be canceled. The Post Office would not process any applications. Regardless of what happens at midnight, the actions of would-be travelers have already been affected, according to a National Public Radio story. A number of procrastinators are calling companies that can expedite passport applications, and others are rushing to the local passport office to drop off their paperwork.

  • Vacation plans
    National parks and museums across the country would be shuttered. During the last government shutdown, the National Park Service closed some 370 locations, and lost 7 million visitors. Monuments and museums were closed to an additional 2 million. As USA Today points out, the capital itself could turn away some 500,000 visitors to the National Zoo and Smithsonian museums on the Mall.

  • Unplug government-issued electronics
    If you are a government employee with a work-issued laptop or smart phone, you technically wont be allowed to use it during a shutdown. As PCMag points out, electronic gadgets link our professional and personal lives. Actually logging off for a shutdown could be difficult for some plugged in individuals in this digital age.

  • FDA inspections on hold
    Food and drug inspections would be at risk if a shutdown occurred. The FDA would keep some inspectors on, but not operate at full capacity. The agency would not be able to inspect manufacturers filing for a new product application, according to a report by CNN. However, inspections of food processing facilities and drug manufacturing plants would be prioritized. High-risk plants with a history of safety violations would come before routine plant inspections.

Also check out our reports from yesterday about how government websites could be affected and what a potential shutdown means for your tax returns and refunds. Sorry but the deadline to file is stuck in stone.

Federal agencies are drafting contingency plans to determine which functions could continue and who would keep working under a government shutdown, according to the Washington Post. The Office of Management and Budget has ordered agencies not to publicly disclose details, however.

Government shutdown: Frequently asked questions [Washington Post]
Looming government shutdown would close national parks, museums [USA Today]
If a government shutdown occurs what actually happens? [Christian Science Monitor]
Government shutdown in the digital age: No Web sites, Blackberrys? []
Traveling Abroad? A Shutdown May Make That Tricky [NPR]
FDA will be 'severely' limited by shutdown [CNN Money]

Maggie Shader

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