Government shutdown could leave millions without benefits

(Graphic by Felisha Larson)
(Graphic by Felisha Larsen)

Millions of Americans stared at their televisions, computers and radios, watching and listening as the federal government of the United States reached the end of the fiscal year and officially shut down.

The U.S. Congress battled back and forth between the House and Senate into the late hours of the evening, eventually failing to find a resolution. This restlessness in Congress triggered the first government shutdown since 1995.

An estimated 800,000 federal employees woke Tuesday morning to a mandatory furlough, and hundreds of thousands of other Americans have been asked to work without pay. These federal workers have been told not to discuss the situation with anyone, or they will be terminated.

“I’m not completely sure who is being asked to work without pay,” said an anonymous federal employee. “Maybe they’re talking about supervisors. They still are required to go in and take calls and deal with employee paperwork.”

Just before the fiscal year came to a close and the federal government essentially ran out of money, President Barack Obama signed a measure that would allow military personnel to still be paid, although their checks will be delayed.

In his statement issued before the government shutdown, the president explained what the shutdown means for Americans.

“With regard to operations that will continue, if you are on social security, you will keep receiving your checks,” he said. “If you are on Medicare, your doctor will still see you. Everyone’s mail will still be delivered.”

Obama went on to say that NASA will be shut down almost completely, and border control, prison guards and traffic control will still remain at their posts, but their paychecks will be delayed until the “government reopens.”

National parks like Utah’s Arches and Capitol Reef have been shut down immediately with barricades and closed signs. The public has 48 hours to vacate.

Vital services to veterans and seniors, funding for food stamps and the WIC program will cease after about a week.

As for Weber State University students, those with Pell grants or direct student loans don’t need to worry about much impact. Children who attend Utah’s public schools will remain relatively unaffected unless the shutdown continues. Funding for school lunches will continue as well.

Remi Barron, the spokesman for the Utah Transit Authority, said that UTA services for WSU students won’t be affected.

“UTA does not anticipate any delays or problems with its projects,” Barron said. “UTA generally deals with the Federal Transit Administration on long-term planning and grants, and it would have to be an extended shutdown of the federal government of many months or years for Weber State students to notice any impact.”