The government has been in partial shutdown since December 22. As a result, more than 800,000 government employees have been going without a paycheck, with over 400,000 of those employees being required to work without pay. But the ramifications of the government shutdown go beyond just the families of those government workers.
With many government agencies completely or partially nonoperational, services such as tax refunds and government benefits are being delayed, which can wreak havoc on the finances of families that rely on them.
One of the most prominent ramifications of the government shutdown is the effect on the IRS. The IRS plan says that only 12.5 percent of IRS employees are authorized to work during a shutdown, with all other employees being deemed nonessential. This, of course, has a profound impact on those furloughed employees.
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But at this time of year, in particular, it has an even more significant effect. Employees nationwide are receiving their 2018 W-2s, and tax season is about to be underway. At this point, the IRS is able to accept tax returns, but processing refunds will be severely delayed.
Many families rely on their tax refunds to be able to pay down debts or to generally assist with their overall financial health. With this process being delayed, families may not receive their refunds when they planned.
Steps to Take
While this situation is certainly not ideal, families can prepare by taking steps to stay afloat until the IRS is fully operational and working to get back up to speed once again. First and foremost, instead of waiting for a resolution, submit your taxes as soon as possible.
If you use your refund to pay down debts, try to avoid accruing more debt while you wait.
The more you charge on a credit card, the more interest you’ll rack up over time, meaning your refund will have less of an impact when you finally receive it.
Additionally, make sure to continue making payments on your debts. Even if you can only afford the minimum payment until you receive your refund, missing payments will have a negative effect on your credit history, and your credit score will suffer.
Also, revisiting your intended use of the funds and what other sources you have would be a good exercise right now. You may even consider calling your creditors to let them know your situation and see if they offer options for lowered interest rates or extension of programs you're already involved in that are helping to keep your debt down.
If the government shutdown runs into February, even more families could be affected. Government assistance in the form of food stamps, school lunches, and nutrition for pregnant women is expected to run out at the end of this month. According to CNN, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has only $3 billion in reserves to cover the month of February, which is estimated to be less than two-thirds of what is needed.
If this does happen, budgets of millions of American households will be severely impacted, which could result in dire hardship and hunger.
Families that may be affected by a decrease in or lack of government assistance come February will have to make some difficult decisions. If your family is among those that could be affected, do what you can to prepare for this possibility. Save what you can — every penny will count if this becomes a reality.
Those 800,000 impacted government workers are also facing hardship having not received pay since Dec. 22. This could prevent an especially dire situation for those living paycheck to paycheck. Tightening the household budget should be the first step for these employees. If the situation remains dire, furloughed employees are able to seek other employment.
However, they are still subject to government regulations and conflict of interest policies, which can limit their options. They are also able to seek unemployment benefits, though these typically have a waiting period of a week or longer. Any government employees granted back pay when government operations resume must return any unemployment benefits they received during the shutdown.
Some banks, such as Chase and Citi, are offering assistance to those suffering financial hardship as a result of the shutdown. You may also consider talking to your landlord or mortgage company, credit card companies, and utilities to see if there are programs they can offer to reduce payments during this time.
Additionally, according to the Washington Post, government employees can apply for a “financial hardship” withdrawal from their 401(k) accounts. However, this should be considered an absolute last resort and will be granted only if the situation meets specific hardship qualifications.
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The government shutdown has already impacted hundreds of thousands of Americans, and the longer it drags on, the more dramatic the effects will become. A continued shutdown will hit low-income families the hardest.
During the shutdown, it’s of the utmost importance to remain informed and to prepare accordingly, to the best of your family’s ability. Tightening your household budget and trying to keep debts as low as possible are good practices to consider. Try to seek out resources before the situation becomes dire. At this point, preparing for the worst is the best course of action.