What you need to know: Government shutdown, Amber Alert, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Many 'Do Not Cross' signs can be found during the government shutdown.

Many ‘Do Not Cross’ signs can be found during the government shutdown.

It’s not the first time there’s been a federal government shutdown, nor is it likely to be the last. Disagreement in Congress about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, frequently referred to as Obamacare, has led the federal government to metaphorically close its doors. Non-essential personnel are on unpaid leave, there are national park closures, and some programs are no longer receiving federal funding. For a little while, the Amber Alert website went down, leading Americans to believe that the Amber Alert network, the emergency response system that broadcasts missing persons, had also been deemed non-essential. What do you need to know about the government shutdown?

Fast facts about the government shutdown

So, why did the government shut down? According to CNN reporter Holly Yan, in her October 1, 2013 article “Government shutdown: Get up to speed in 20 questions,” “Congress has one key duty in the Constitution pass spending bills that fund the government. If it doesn’t, most functions of government . . . [grind] to a halt.” The big reason congress can’t agree on funding is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act legislation, which was slated to go into effect on October 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. Before the shutdown, House Republicans were trying to pass a bill delaying the Affordable Care Act; Democrats were rejecting any changes.

Government shutdowns are not new. Since 1981, there have been eight of them, though four lasted only a half day. The last shutdown in 1995 lasted 21 days. The current shutdown is already the second-longest shutdown in recent history… and counting.

What are the biggest impacts of the shutdown?

  • Government workers who are deemed non-essential – meaning that lives don’t depend on their getting their jobs done – are being furloughed. Of the 3.3 million government workers, roughly 800,000 are on unpaid leave from work.
  • They’re expensive, not just in terms of cash, but in terms of time lost, especially in the sciences. Moody’s Analytics estimates that a three-to-four-week shutdown could cost $55 billion.
  • As is complained about all around the Internet, yes, our elected officials still get paid. But don’t blame them – the 27th Amendment to the Constitution prevents Congress from changing their own wages, which includes suspending them during a shutdown.

But don’t be dismayed. A number of representatives are refusing or donating their pay during the shutdown, which might make their constituents a little less irritated that they can’t come to a decision. Ed O’Keefe, writing on October 8, 2013 for the Washington Post blog in “Which lawmakers will refuse their pay during the shutdown?” reported that at least 229 lawmakers had announced their intentions to donate or refuse their pay. The list also includes representatives who already donate their pay to charity.

How it impacts you

There are a lot of big-idea outcomes for the shutdown, but here are three ways the shutdown might impact you directly.

  • Remember those national park closures mentioned above? That means war memorials, museums, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and all of the Smithsonian. But not everyone accepts the restrictions; at least one group of veterans stormed the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. “It’s a shame they don’t care about World War II veterans when so many of them are dying off,” Fred Yanrow, who served in the Pacific Theater of World War II, said in Time article “Government shutdown: WWII vets say feds should be ashamed for closing their memorial” by Mark Thompson, October 2, 2013. Some of the memorials have been reopened to allow veterans access, but most parks and museums remain closed.
  • In college as a member of the armed services? Be careful about signing up for any new courses – and about how you’ll pay for the ones you’re taking now. According to GoArmyEd.com, Tuition Assistance for current soldiers has been suspended. Any debt you incur taking your current classes will not be reimbursed.
  • If your science courses depend on government resources – such as the National Vulnerability Database run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology – that resource is down until the shutdown ends. NASA is on hiatus as well, so if your astronomy class was planning on using current Hubble images, you’re out of luck.

As for the Amber Alert system – don’t worry, it never went down. Missing persons were still being broadcast about while the website was taken offline. Because of confusion and bad press, the website has also been restored.

Why are you concerned about the government shutdown? Tell us in the comments below.

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