From Social Security to tourism, government shutdown would affect public

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A government shutdown looks increasingly likely as Democrats and Republicans fail to reach an agreement on the federal budget. A report by the Congressional Research Service examines some of the challenges faced during the previous shutdown in 1995-1996.

Thousands of government workers would be furloughed, directly affecting Americans in many ways.

During the past government shutdown, new patients were not admitted to clinical research trials and hot line calls about diseases went unanswered at the National Institute of Health. Toxic waste cleanup at 609 sites stopped and 2,400 Superfund workers were sent home.

National parks, museums, and monuments were closed, causing a loss of 7 million visitors, with local communities losing tourism revenues as a result.

About 20,000 to 30,000 visa applications from foreigners went unprocessed per day, while 200,000 U.S. applications for passports were idled. As a result, U.S. tourism and airlines suffered millions in losses.

Even programs not directly funded by the congressional appropriations can still be affected. Social Security Administration retained some workers during the shutdown, but still had trouble responding to additional needs, like people needing a new Social Security card or a change of address for their monthly check. More than 50,000 Social Security personnel were initially furloughed, and then recalled three days later, when the agency realized it would need employees for direct service work such as processing new claims for beneficiaries.

Government challenges are not just limited to the shutdown period — they must spend time developing a shutdown plan prior to the event, deciding which employees are essential, and facing significant backlogs of work once the shutdown ends.

FAST FACT: A variety of federal employees are exempt, including members of Congress, the President, presidential appointees, and certain legislative branch employees. Congressional staffers would not be paid during a shutdown unless there is an appropriation passed to specifically fund the legislative branch.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.

HEALTH CARE

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois agreed to pay $25 million to settle a False Claims Act. Blue Cross Blue Shield denied payable claims to a nursing care facility for medically fragile, dependent children to inappropriately shift costs to Medicaid. (Inspector General HHS)

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