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October 2, 2013

At first, many may not notice government shutdown

Congress failed to enact spending plans for the federal government Monday night, leading portions of it to remain closed starting yesterday morning in the first shutdown in 17 years.

But on the ground level, that can mean a little or a lot, depending on why and how often a person interacts with the federal government. Many people will not even notice.

Agencies not part of the annual budgeting process, like the U.S. Postal Service, will not be affected. Federal employees responsible for protection of life and property, such as FBI agents and air traffic controllers, are exempted from the shutdown and reporting to work to perform those duties.

Also, many grant and funding programs continue, for now, meaning colleges are not affected.

The Postal Service funds most of its operations from a separate fund and is not subject to the budgeting process. Mail will be picked up and delivered, and post offices are open. Social Security is considered an “indefinite appropriation” out of a trust fund and will continue to make payments through the shutdown. Medicare also will continue to make payments.

Congress on Monday passed, and President Obama signed, a measure to continue paying military personnel, who would have gone without pay had the act not been approved.

Public higher education institutions, which rely on federal grants and student aid, may find programs affected if a shutdown drags on.

This year, Northern Essex Community College is scheduled to receive about $1.8 million in federal grants through various agencies, including the Department of Education, Department of Labor, and the National Science Foundation, school officials said.

“At this time, financial aid, and our largest programs for serving at-risk students — our TRIO-Student Support Services and Title V-Hispanic Serving Institutions grants — are not at risk of de-funding or closing, as the college will continue to carry the costs in the short term,” Lane Glenn, president of NECC, said in a statement. “However, the longer the federal government is shut down, the greater the risk that these services, and others, will be affected. We are monitoring the situation carefully, and will do all we can to meet our students’ needs.”

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