Preparing for a Government Shutdown

Preparing for a Government Shutdown

( – When Congress fails to fund the government for any reason, it can lead to a total shutdown of almost all services. This is exactly what happened from December 22, 2018, until January 25, 2019. For a total of 35 days, many federal employees were furloughed without pay, severely limiting services and costing the US economy millions per day.

The good news is that lengthy shutdowns aren’t all that common — most are over within a few short days. But the fact of the matter is that they can happen, and when they do, your family is likely to be affected. Here’s how to prepare in advance.

Get Your Finances in Order

Sit down and take an honest look at your finances. Are you living beyond your means? Do you have a savings account for rainy days? Do you rely on benefits, such as Social Security or unemployment? Think for a moment about what might happen if you suddenly lost your income, no matter where it comes from. How long would you be able to survive?

If you can’t answer the last question, or you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, now is the time to firm things up. Cut back on excess spending where you can, and start putting money into a high-interest savings account. Even if it’s only $20 a month, it will add up over time.

It may also be helpful to keep a list of monthly payments — both bills and subscription services. Prioritize these where possible, and cut back where you can, but don’t sweat the necessities. It’s possible to live without Netflix for a month, but you can’t avoid paying an electricity or water bill. In the event of a shutdown, you can pause the latter to save cash.

Consider Paying Ahead on Shelter Costs

A loss of income can put you at risk of losing your home, especially if you rely on benefits or work for the federal government during a shutdown. If you can afford to do so, set aside enough money to cover shelter costs for at least three months. This will ensure that, even if times get rough, you’ll at least have a roof over your head until services are restored.

Identify Community Resources

Can’t afford to save? It may be advantageous to explore options for financial assistance now before a shutdown occurs. Most cities, towns, and states have charities and organizations that work hard to be at the ready to help if and when people are struggling — and that includes when a shutdown occurs.

  • Reach out to local churches. Many offer housing and grocery assistance programs that may help you bridge the gap if times become rough.
  • Explore food banks and pantries. There’s no shame in seeking assistance with food if your finances are strapped. Make a list of food banks and soup kitchens you can visit if needed.
  • Look into state-based assistance. When the federal government shuts down, state government programs typically continue. You may be able to access resources there, rather than through the federal government if you lose access to your pay.
  • Ask utility providers about relief programs. Power companies often run in-house relief programs for people in need, as do other local organizations. If there’s a chance that you might face a loss of electricity, it makes sense to keep info about these programs on hand.
  • Explore free services for seniors, the disabled, and federal employees. In the event of a lengthy shutdown, some businesses help by offering free or reduced-cost services. Check with gyms, community centers, community pools, and health clinics for more information.

Remember that community resources aren’t only there for shutdowns — you can take advantage of them at any time. So, if you’re already struggling, it might make sense to reach out before you face the additional stress of poor access to government services.

Get Involved in Your Community

Don’t underestimate the value of strong community ties. You may be able to work together for the greater good of all by bartering, trading, and just plain helping each other out. Perhaps you make an excellent loaf of bread, while your neighbor grows delicious vegetables all summer long. Or, maybe the teen down the road needs a hand fixing their bicycle in exchange for mowing your lawn. Working together not only makes life better but can also help you save a whole lot of money along the way.

Explore Free Medical Clinics

Medicare and other programs usually remain mostly available during a government shutdown. But accessibility may suffer; it might take longer to enroll or talk to a representative over the phone. To ensure that you always have access to services on an as-needed basis, look into options such as free or low-cost clinics in your area. Make a note of what’s available for when you need it.

Additionally, don’t forget that most hospitals are mandated to treat you in an emergency. If you find yourself facing a condition that could threaten your life, don’t avoid going just because you have concerns about coverage. Your life is more important than a large bill, and many hospitals have financial aid programs available to help, anyhow.

Government shutdowns can and do happen, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless to ensure your safety and comfort when they do. Start preparing now for the best chance of stress-free survival. Your future self, and family, will thank you.

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