Rep. Cohen releases updates for furloughed federal employees

This signage advises the public that a campground is closed because of the government shutdown at Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. Photo by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) via; some rights reserved.

[Editor’s note: This story published on Jan. 17, 2019, in our print edition but was delayed in being posted online due to technical issues.]

Rep. Steve Cohen
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-9th District) provided an overview of how his constituents may be affected by the government’s partial shutdown that began on Dec. 22, 2018.

On Monday, he said the new House Majority has passed legislation to reopen the government with the bipartisan funding levels and language approved by Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That effort received overwhelming bipartisan support in December, before President Donald Trump withdrew his support for the legislation. So far, he said, the new Senate has yet to act on the House-passed legislation.

There are nine federal departments affected by the shutdown: Homeland Security, Treasury, Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Justice, Commerce, Transportation, and State. In addition, numerous critical smaller independent agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Small Business Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are affected.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted detailed information for impacted federal employees at

Federal employees who are affected by the shutdown, whether they are classified as furloughed or essential, were not able to receive their regular paycheck on Jan. 11.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development determines weekly benefit amounts for eligible individuals. According to OPM, if an individual receives unemployment benefits and then is retroactively paid for furloughed time, the individual may be required to return any unemployment benefits received. See more information at

While on furlough, an individual remains an employee of the Federal Government. Before looking for outside employment, OPMrecommends reviewing all applicable rules and standards of ethical conduct, both executive branch-wide as well as agency-specific, and consult with agency-specific ethics officials.

See OPM guidance on health and life insurance coverage at

Additional information for federal employees can be found at

Effect on food assistance

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is able to provide benefits for recipients through February.

Cohen wrote, “This week, I joined my colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue demanding more information on the USDA plan for SNAP benefits if the shutdown continues.”

Effect on tax refunds

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), approximately 88 percent of the staff is furloughed.

According to an issue report published by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, walk-in taxpayer assistance centers and all taxpayer customer service are unavailable during the shutdown, which impacts issuing refunds, updating tax forms or answering phone help lines.

On Jan. 8, 2019, the IRS announced that it will begin to process tax returns beginning on Jan. 28, 2019, and provide refunds to taxpayers as scheduled.

Cohen said, “This week, I joined my colleagues in sending a letter to President Trump urging that the administration immediately address the looming crisis that the government shutdown poses for American families who depend on the IRS to process tax returns promptly.”

Effect on homebuyers, small businesses

According to an issue report published by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is not processing loans and mortgage approvals.

According to a report published by the Appropriations Committee, the Small Business Administration has halted its role in the federal contracting process. It has also stopped approving loan assistance and guarantee applications from commercial banks and small businesses.

Effect on national parks & Smithsonian

According to the National Park Service, national parks are open on a case by case basis. To find out the status of a particular park, visit

According to the National Park Service, the suspension on services for visitors such as visitor centers, interpretative programs and restrooms will be lifted due to the utilization of entrance, camping, parking and other fees to pay for expanded operations. Note that, according to a report published by the Appropriations Committee, curtailed law enforcement staffing may be placing visitors’ safety at risk.

According to the Smithsonian Institution, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed to tourists and visitors.

Effect on travel

Cohen wrote, “Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and air traffic controllers are working hard without pay throughout the government shutdown to ensure continued safety of air travel. I am grateful for the work of these individuals in Memphis and around the country as they continue to do this difficult and often underappreciated job.”

No changes

No changes are expected to the following benefits and services:

  • Social Security benefits
  • Medicare and Medicaid benefits
  • Veterans benefits
  • Mail deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will renew and issue new flood insurance policies.

More information may be found in the House Appropriations Committee Fact Sheet at