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What a US government shutdown means for Hoosiers

Government shutdown appears imminent

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A leading political scientist on Friday said a shutdown’s impact to individual Hoosiers depends on which services they use and how long it lasts.

A measure to keep the government funded for another 30 days failed Friday despite the support of all seven of Indiana’s Republican members of the House. Twenty-one Republicans joined with every Democrat, including Indiana’s Frank Mrvan and Andre Carson, to defeat the measure. Unless House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is able to put together a spending deal, the federal government will run out of money at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

Dr. Chad Kinsella, the director of Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, said the narrow margins by which each party controls the two houses of Congress mean a small group on either side of the aisle can derail a deal.

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security

The federal government’s three largest entitlement programs are not included in the annual appropriations process, so users will still receive their benefits. Kinsella said the loss of funding means customer service personnel likely will be furloughed, so benefits could be delayed. He said many users of such programs depend on timely payments, so delays could cause serious problems, especially in areas with large numbers of entitlement program users.

SNAP, WIC and other food assistance programs

The USDA’s contingency plans call for continuing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the Women, Infants and Children program and child nutrition programs including school meal programs. This will depend on how much residual funding is available. SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, will remain available for October, but could be jeopardized if a shutdown extends into November. Biden Administration officials have said the WIC program could run out of money in a few days.

As with the entitlement programs, Kinsella said furloughs of federal employees associated with food assistance programs could mean delayed benefits and a lack of customer service support when needed.

Education and student financial aid

Kinsella said he’s watching this one especially closely given Muncie’s status as the home of Ball State University. The Department of Education’s contingency plan shows disbursement of Pell Grants and federal direct student loans could continue for a limited time, as could processing FAFSA applications and servicing student loans. If a shutdown lasts longer than one week, federal funding to school districts, colleges, and universities could be disrupted.

Travel woes

TSA and FAA workers would have to continue working, so airports should function normally. Kinsella said that could change if workers begin calling out sick en masse, as they did during the 2018-2019 shutdown. If that happens, he said to expect major delays.

National Park Service properties including Indiana Dunes National Park almost certainly will close, as they did during previous shutdowns.

The long-term damage

No shutdown in U.S. history has lasted longer than the 2018-2019 shutdown, which ran for 34 days. Even after funding is restored, however, Kinsella said shutdowns do serious political damage. He said a shutdown represents a failure on the part of Congress to carry out one of its most essential functions. Kinsella said he fears shutdowns have become normalized.

“You think about the damage it does to public confidence in government,” Kinsella said. “When that happens, when people don’t have the things that they need, that can be very catastrophic, particularly in a polarized era, which we’re already in.”

Kinsella said everyone should pay attention to the news as the shutdown unfolds and contact their member of Congress if they have any questions about service disruptions. He said staff at the federal agencies likely won’t be available to answer questions.