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Is The Partial Government Shutdown Painful? It Depends Who You Ask


And let's talk more about the impact of this shutdown. It could affect millions of Americans. That includes hundreds of thousands of U.S. employees who will stop getting paid from the Defense Department to the IRS. Now, some of them are heading to work today anyway, uncertain whether they'll actually be working and worried about what the shutdown will mean for their finances. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has been following this side of the story. Hi, Wade.


GREENE: So how big of an impact is this shutdown going to have on the country? And, I guess, where is it going to be felt the most?

GOODWYN: Well, at first, it's not going to be all that bad. Some federal workers, as you mentioned, are going to go in the office for a few hours, find out whether they've been deemed essential and will continue to work. If they're not, then they're furloughed and go home. Doesn't matter if you're essential or nonessential for the most part - nobody is getting paid.

But the category of what's, you know, considered an essential service is pretty expansive - law enforcement, military, air traffic control, veterans hospitals. Post office men and women will keep trudging through the rain, sleet and snow. The Postal Service has a funding stream that's happily independent of Congress. Social Security, Homeland Security, Justice Department, FBI, CIA keep right on going. I mean, can you imagine the chaos if all the TSA agents were furloughed?


GOODWYN: Not going to happen. There's still going to be plenty of folks to pat you down.

GREENE: OK. So it could be felt personally for people who are not being paid. But you're saying much of the federal government is going to keep operating. So maybe even shutdown is the wrong word to use here.

GOODWYN: As a general rule of thumb, if the agency is involved in protecting the public in a law-enforcement matter, then they're working. If the agency are regulatory or administrative, then they're furloughed but not always. Like, the EPA - regulatory, so they're furloughed, right? But on Friday, EPA's head guy Scott Pruitt said, hey, we've got enough money for another week, so everybody come to work, which I found to be an impressive rainy day fund. That's 14,000 employees.


GOODWYN: Look. It's the duration of the shutdown that's important. If the Republicans and Democrats cut a deal today or tomorrow, this will be much ado about nothing. But if we start running deep into the second week, it's a lot more serious because hundreds of thousands of employees won't be getting paid. Last night, I talked to a guy in Durango, Calif., named Derek Ryter. He's at the U.S. Geological Survey. He's a hydrologist, a scientist whose research is helping keep the state of Oklahoma in drinking water. And Ryter has been furloughed.

DEREK RYTER: I'm very disappointed with the entire situation and also stressed because we have a lot of work we need to get done. You know, I can't miss a house payment. If I miss a paycheck, I don't have, you know, reserves to make up for something like this.

GOODWYN: You know, the 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days. And Standard & Poor's said it was a $24 billion hit to the economy. You know, somebody should break down this price tag - the political bickering hourly cost. Maybe that would get Congress's attention.

GREENE: Well, one of the things we've been hearing from President Trump - also from some Democrats - is this shutdown could devastate the country's military. Can you fact-check that for me?

GOODWYN: Well, I mean, look. The Washington Post fact-checked it and gave President Trump's tweets on the subject three Pinocchios out of four - three Pinocchios meaning mostly false. The nation's military will soldier on, if it's not too early in the morning for bad puns. My apologies. There will be furloughs inside the Defense Department. A lot of civilian workers will stay home, and that's a pretty big number - 300,000. And as for the rank and file, usually, Congress figures out a way for military personnel to continue to get paid during the shutdown. That's what they did last time. But even with no congressional action, however, the military gets paid through Feb. 1.

GREENE: I'm just still looking back to you saying that one agency was able to stay open for another week by finding some sort of rainy day fund. But the longer this goes, the worse it gets. So where do the big problems start cropping up?

GOODWYN: Here's a big one - if you're trying to close on a house and get your mortgage loan approved, your bank has to verify your income using your Social Security number. And this shutdown is going to be a big problem for you because the IRS is not deemed essential. And if this goes on for one, two, three weeks, this is going to drive realtors, buyers and home sellers mad with frustration. And in Texas and a lot of other states with hot real estate markets, there are a lot of people in that situation.

GREENE: NPR's Wade Goodwyn. Wade, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

GOODWYN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.
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