Almost four weeks have passed since the US government began its partial shutdown. While the media is reporting about the shutdown on a daily basis, not much seems to have changed in our daily lives. Maybe some have experienced crowded border controls at US airports and by now we've all heard the concerns about how thoroughly TSA is able to conduct security screenings.
As the tax season approaches (January 28, 2019) the impacts of the government shutdown are becoming more relevant to consumers. The IRS has already announced that it will open on time, but some of its operations will be shut down. Consumers shouldn’t worry about their returns, as they will be accepted and refunds will be paid. Unfortunately, consumers who need assistance with their taxes might have to consult self-help resources if the shutdown doesn’t come to an end. IRS service centers will remain closed and phone calls might go unanswered. The website will still be accessible and some of the online applications will still run, like the tax refund information app "Where's my fund?" Even though the IRS accepts paper filings, it recommends filing tax returns electronically as this will speed up the process. Mail communication will be slowed down and even after the shutdown, there will be a delay in correspondence due to accumulated paper filings.
Another big issue some consumers may be worried about is the operation of the Food and Drug Administration during the shutdown. The FDA has announced that 40% of its employees will not be working. Does this mean that food safety is at risk? Well, first of all, not all food is inspected thoroughly during normal operations. Many of the FDA food inspections are implemented randomly. Besides the FDA, food inspections are also conducted by the companies who make and sell the products. Also, the USDA is still monitoring meat, poultry, and processed egg facilities. The FDA announced that it will implement measures for high-risk foods. This means that some FDA employees will resume work without payment.
Additionally, consumers might be affected who apply for new drugs or medical devices. The FDA is not reviewing applications for new drugs which were submitted during the shutdown period except for emergency cases.
At present, consumers aren’t impacted severely by the consequences of the shutdown. But as each day passes, more of the “non-essential” and unpaid government employees will start to look elsewhere. This could cause the backlog of work to grow exponentially for some agencies, which means it will take longer to get back to normal once they are finally back up and running.