What to expect in Washington DC if the federal government shuts down

Washington DC is legally just another federal agency. Here are some services that will be interrupted if there is a government shutdown. Photo: trash pile up/ AP

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2013 — Last Friday, the Republican controlled Congress voted to avoid a government shutdown by passing a bill which would continue to fund the federal government but not allocate any money toward the affordable care act.

The bill will now proceed to the Democrat majority Senate where it is expected to be dead on arrival. Even if democrats miraculously crossed party lines to pass the bill, Obama has made it clear he would use his veto power against the measure if necessary.

The situation has set the stage for a showdown between Republicans and Democrats which could cause a government shut down at the end of the fiscal year, September 30 if no spending agreement compromise is reached. With the debt ceiling debate on the horizon, the possibility of a federal government shutdown just got a little bit more likely.

If there is a shutdown, Washington D.C. residents, commuters and tourists will be affected more than those of other states.

The District of Columbia is treated the same way as a federal agency and is subject to congressional control.

Police, firefighters and emergency medical services will continue in the face of a shutdown because they are considered essential personnel, but services that do not fall into that category will halt, with significant impact.

The Department of Public Works is not “essential” and therefore street sweepers and trash collectors will be furloughed. The possibility of trash piling up for days or weeks comes at a time when residents have complained that rat sightings in the city are at an all time high. Residents have been reporting of rodent sighting throughout the summer at a rate higher than years past. Last month, it was reported that rats were even seen rushing up and down D.C. streets in broad daylight.

The District’s Department of Health, which runs the rodent control program, has asked residents via their website to help control the rat population by eliminating trash from D.C. streets quickly.

The Department of Transportation for the district will also not be running as usual if the government shuts down. During prior shutdowns, only a skeleton crew which could respond in the event of emergency situations remained funded while all maintenance and repairs of roads that were considered not to be urgent will not be done.

A halt to road construction this year would include repair work on the Washington D.C. bridges which commuters cross every day in and out of the city. This work would be stopped despite a report that was released this summer by Transportation for America which found 31 bridges in the city to be structurally deficient and by definition requiring significant repair or replacement.

According to the Associated Press, this includes three bridges which are considered critical. One, Whitney Young Memorial Bridge, which carries travelers to RFK stadium, another, Frederick Douglass Bridge,  that goes past the National’s ballpark and the third, Theodore Roosevelt Bridge which connects to the George Washington Parkway.

Even though schools inside the city should continue to be open and on time, students could still be impacted because it would be expected that the public library system would close. This would be particularly difficult for students who rely on the library as their primary source to computers and the internet.

All of the public monuments, museums and parks in Washington D.C. would shut their doors for the duration of the standoff past October 1.

With the major tourism sites closed, it would be logical to assume that vacationers would cancel scheduled trips to the Nation’s Capital. Hotels, restaurants and local shops could feel a major impact on their bottom line if the tourist dollars are not coming into the city.

If the federal government closes down, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not be able to open in the district, bringing car registrations and drivers license renewals to a stop.

Passport orders will also not be processed.

One possible highlight of a federal government shutdown for those who spend time in Washington D.C. is that those parking ticket writers who roam the streets of D.C. writing almost 100 tickets a day could also be furloughed, but police officers will still be able to issue tickets for safety violations such as blocking a fire hydrant.

Despite frequent threats, there has not actually been a federal government shutdown since 1996 when Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich found themselves at an impasse.

Even if an agreement cannot be met and there is a temporary shutdown, essential services will continue. Social security payments will go out, Medicare payments will be made, the FBI and the military will all continue without any interruption.

But there is no doubt that the average citizen living in and around Washington D.C. could be inconvenienced.

In an ironic twist of fate, if facing an impending federal government shutdown, the president could declare Obamacare “essential” to life and property and it would be one of the few “services” not affected by the shutdown.


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Susan L Ruth

Susan L. Ruth is a long-time Washington, DC resident with extensive ties throughout the community.  She is a genealogical researcher and writer, and is an active volunteer in the Northern Virginia competitive swimming community.  Susan previously worked providing life-skills to head injured adults. 

Susan and her husband Kerry currently live in Northern Virginia with their three sons, Ryley, Casey and Jack and their American Bulldog, Leila.

 

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