Government shutdown: How Americans are feeling its growing effects

Among those taking a hit from the government shutdown, now more than a week old, are private businesses and their employees, homebuyers and charities, even hunters on federal lands.

Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune/AP
Donna Rice makes a thumbs down for a photo by her husband Barry after they traveled from Chicago to Zion National Park, which remains closed due to the government shutdown, near Springdale, Utah, Oct. 9, 2013.

A partial shutdown of the federal government has now lasted more than a week, with effects that are starting to seep into the lives and bank accounts of ordinary Americans.

Some private sector employers have had to put workers on furlough. Private charities that depend on government assistance are worried about how to keep services going. And in a highly publicized disruption, military families have faced questions over whether traditional death benefits for fallen service members would be available as expected.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the full death benefits would still be provided, but only because a public charity (Fisher House Foundation) stepped in with interim financing for benefits that include a $100,000 death gratuity payment.

That isn’t business as usual for the US armed forces, and it’s not business as usual for the US economy.

The Labor Department on Thursday said that filings for unemployment benefits rose during the week that ended Oct. 5. About 15,000 of the new jobless claims stemmed from private sector workers laid off temporarily by the government shutdown.

Many government programs that Americans rely on are continuing as usual, including vital national security functions and the payment of Social Security checks.

Funding for nonessential services ran dry, however, as Congress failed to agree on a funding measure to start the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Here’s a look at some of the impacts across the nation so far:

• Private sector jobs. Some companies that provide services or goods to the federal government are having to furlough workers as long as the shutdown lasts. One of the biggest examples is Lockheed Martin. The aerospace company says that is has “approximately 2,400 employees unable to work because the civil government facility where they perform their work is closed, or we’ve received a stop-work order on their [defense] or civil government program.”

Although many of the affected private sector employees are in the D.C. metro area, it’s a nationwide phenomenon. The Lockheed Martin furloughs affect workers in 27 states, for example.

• Private business sales. The shutdown has affected business, notably ones tied to tourism at national parks or the nation’s capital. On the national seashores along North Carolina's Outer Banks islands, business owners compared the financial magnitude of closed beaches and waterways to that of a hurricane-forced evacuation.

Scott Geib, who sells photographs near the closed Cape Hatteras lighthouse, said sales were way down last week from what would normally be a good week for him in early fall.

• Activities on federal lands. In some cases this affects people’s livelihood. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a recent hearing that hunters are barred from federal lands, placing their year's supply of game meat in jeopardy.

"This is hunting season. This is when Alaskans are filling their freezers for winter," she said Tuesday.

• The environment. At the Environmental Protection Agency, the shutdown means the agency can no longer certify whether vehicles meet emissions standards, delaying some new models from reaching car lots. New pesticides and industrial chemicals are also in limbo because the EPA has halted reviews of their health and environmental effects. And the nation's environmental police are no longer checking to see if polluters are complying with agreements to reduce their pollution.

• Schools. The impact of the shutdown on school districts, colleges, and universities has been relatively minimal so far. Student loans have continued to be paid out. If the shutdown lingers longer, however, districts and higher education institutions that rely on federal grants dollars to fund programs such as those for special education students could begin to feel the pinch, the Education Department has said.

• Housing market. Some borrowers are finding it harder to close on their mortgages. Some lenders are having trouble confirming applicants' income tax returns and Social Security data due to government agency closures. Furloughs at the Federal Housing Administration are slowing the agency's processing of loans for some low- to moderate-income borrowers and first-time homebuyers.

• Private charities. Many charitable organizations rely partly on government funds for their operations, and some of those have expressed concern about how to keep operating if the shutdown persists.

“The federal government shutdown will negatively impact several projects and programs,” Mike Burrus of Catholic Charities in Wichita, Kan., said in a recent statement on the group’s website. These include a shelter for domestic-violence survivors, a “Marriage for Keeps” program that promotes healthy relationships, and a foster grandparent program. Mr. Burrus warns that the group “cannot expect to continue to receive funds to support these programs or to pay staff to run them.”

Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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