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Frequently asked questions about the government shutdown

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Congress has failed to fund the federal government and has shut it down. Federal employees are instructed to report to work and will be sent home when they arrive on Tuesday. Additionally, government services will be suspended. Here's a look at how shutdown would affect you:

How did we get here?

The simple answer is politics. The government is operating under a spending bill that expires when the new fiscal year begins on Tuesday. Democrats want a bill to fund government at current levels through the end of the year that is free of policy changes. Republicans view the must-pass legislation as an opportunity to to undercut the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

What happens if the government shuts down?

For Maryland, the biggest economic impact would probably come from federal employee furloughs. The state is home to about 300,000 federal workers, who make up about 10 percent of the civilian workforce. If no deal is reached to fund the government, many will be sent home on Tuesday.

There would be service cuts, too. National Parks, including Fort McHenry in Baltimore, and federal museums such as the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art and the National Zoo in Washington would close. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid checks would continue to go out, but services such as Social Security card replacement would be suspended. Post offices would remain open. IRS walk-in centers would be closed. Air travel would not be affected and federal courts would remain open for at least 10 days.

What other services would be affected?

Food stamp benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and free and reduced-price school lunch and breakfast programs will continue through the month of October. But food and nutrition counseling through the WIC program, which offers services to pregnant women, new mothers, infants and young children, would be suspended.

Payments to landlords for low-income tenants in the Section 8 rental voucher program have already been made for October. Public housing authorities have likewise been funded, and emergency programs for the homeless and those with HIV/AIDS will continue.

The government would suspend payments to those in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Other Health and Human Services programs, including Head Start, would also lose funding.

What about Obamacare?

Although Obamacare has been at the center of the fight in Washington, the law would not be affected by a shutdown. Marylanders still would be able to begin enrolling on Tuesday in the new health insurance exchanges. That's because most of the health care law is funded with mandatory federal spending.

What about federal employees?

Federal employees are expected to report to work on Tuesday no matter what has transpired in Washington overnight. If no deal has been reached, many employees will receive formal furlough notices and might be given time to collect needed belongings from their work space before being sent home. Exempted employees will continue to work.

Will federal employees receive retroactive pay?

That's unclear. It would take an act of Congress to pay federal workers retroactively. Lawmakers have approved such funding after past shutdowns, but the federal workforce has more recently become a target for many lawmakers.

Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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