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Hey, Texplainer: What would a government shutdown mean for Texas?

A shutdown is poised to take place unless Congress passes a new spending bill and President Donald Trump signs it into law by Jan. 19. That could mean closed parks, furloughed workers and the temporary closure of NASA in Texas.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2017.


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*Correction appended. 

Hey, Texplainer: Which Texas services will stop and which will continue if the federal government shuts down?

The short answer is that it depends on what is classified as “essential.”

Anything related to national security and public safety — such as the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice — is considered “essential.” A lot of other things — like museums, parks and many federal offices — are not.

A shutdown will happen unless Congress passes a new spending bill and President Donald Trump signs it into law by Jan. 19. Opposition from some members of both parties could make that difficult. Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but some GOP members have expressed skepticism of proposed deals. Meanwhile, some Democrats are threatening to attempt to block the spending bill if it doesn’t include legislation that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

If a deal doesn't get made, federal agencies' Texas offices will feel an effect, according to Hugh Brady, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The Internal Revenue Service will stop processing tax returns and answering phone calls from taxpayers who have questions, which means if you’re trying to buy a house or anything that relies on them verifying your income for any purposes — that’ll be delayed,” Brady said.

“Social Security retirees will continue to get their checks, but no one will be able to apply for retirement until the shutdown is over.”

The National Park Service will also close all of its parks and historic sites, including the 16 sites it manages in Texas. NASA, which has the Johnson Space Center in Houston, will essentially shut down. The Department of Homeland Security will likely have to temporarily halt its E-Verify program, a move which will prevent business owners from checking the immigration status of prospective employees. 

And thousands of Texas workers would take a direct hit.

Any "nonessential" federal employee in Texas would be furloughed — a non-duty, non-pay status. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas has nearly 200,000 federal employees, fourth in the nation behind California, Virginia and Maryland.

“The Texas Workforce Commission is monitoring the events in Washington D.C. regarding a possible federal government shutdown, and should this occur, we will do everything we can with available resources to ensure that we maintain services to the job seekers and employers of Texas,” said TWC spokeswoman Lisa Givens.  

But not every state service would be in jeopardy. Despite a shutdown, Texas courts would continue to operate. However, any litigation that involved lawyers representing the government wouldn't be allowed to move forward unless ordered to do so by a judge.

“All of the military bases in Texas will continue to operate, the courts will continue to operate … and the mail will continue to come in and go out,” Brady said. “Other than that, pretty much everything else gets shut down."

The most recent government shutdown lasted for two weeks in October 2013. It cost the nation roughly $24 billion, according to Standard & Poor's.

The bottom line: A shutdown is poised to take place unless Congress passes a new spending bill and President Donald Trump signs it into law by Jan. 19. If Congress can’t reach an agreement, Texas offices of federal agencies will close. Those who will feel the biggest immediate effect of a shutdown are furloughed federal employees in Texas.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that NASA's headquarters are in Houston. 

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