Congratulations, America! It's a government shutdown. After weeks of threats and dares, we've hit the deadline. It's happening. But don't panic -- this is a partial government shutdown. Unlike pregnancy, where you're either pregnant or you're not, the government can be partially funded and running. But a large part of our government comes to a grinding halt today.
You probably have a lot of questions about how this happened and how this will affect you. Read on to find out what you need to know about the government shutdown.
1. How did this happen? Well, when two people really love each other, they ... oh sorry, wrong post. Congress and the Senate were unable to agree on a spending bill. This means the government does not have the authority to spend money. This time the sticking point was the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The House voted to continue spending at the same levels EXCEPT it would postpone implementing the Affordable Care Act for another year. The Senate rejected that plan.
2. What happens next? It'll be a while before the government shutdown shows. The fiscal year ended Monday at midnight, so technically it's already begun. Today government workers will still report to work, but unless they've been declared "essential," they will work for four hours preparing for the shutdown and then be furloughed. It's estimated that nearly a million federal employees will stop working.
3. What government jobs are "essential"? Some 3.3 million government employees will continue working. All active-duty service members will still be on the job and continue getting paid. So will the President and members of the House and Senate. Some federal employees who have been deemed "essential" will continue working, but without pay. This includes employees who provide national security, protect the public (including federal food inspectors), and people who work for agencies that have permanent funding (like Social Security).
4. How will the shutdown affect me? You will still get your mail since the U.S. Postal Service runs as a separate business. You may still get a passport if you hurry, since the Department of State has enough funding to keep going a little while longer. Seniors will continue to receive their checks as will people on unemployment. People on food stamps will still receive their benefits. Kids should still get school lunch through the end of the month.
You will not be able to visit a national park or a free, government-funded museum. No WIC benefits unless your state provides additional funding for it. You will not be able to apply for a federal loan or a gun permit. Benefits and many services for vets will stop. Here's a list of federal agency contingency plans. When in doubt, call the government agency you need to find out if it's still providing services.
5. Is it too late to stop the shudtown? No. The shutdown will end immediately as soon as the Senate and House agree to a spending bill and the President signs it.
6. What happens to Obamacare? Oh that's still on. Friday President Obama said, "The marketplaces will be open on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there is a government shutdown." The state-run exchange for the uninsured opened today as scheduled. This is because Obamacare is a permanent entitlement, like Medicaid and Social Security.
7. How long will this shutdown last? We really don't know. The longest shutdown (1995-1996) lasted 21 days. Most last just a few days.
8. Who do we blame for this mess? It depends on who you ask. According to a CNN/ORC International poll, 46 percent of Americans blame congressional Republicans, 36 percent blame Obama, and 13 percent blame both.
Do you think you'll feel the effects of the government shutdown directly?