and Steve Johnson
As the federal government shutdown creeps toward its first full week with no resolution in sight, experts say October could be a cold, dark month for many -- but November could make that look like the good old days.
Millions of Americans are nervously watching their calendars, knowing that support for the basics of daily life -- food, housing, education, jobs -- have begun eroding and could vanish around the end of the month at the earliest, throwing lives into chaos and perhaps tripping up the nation's fragile economic recovery.
"The longer this goes on, the greater uncertainty there will be for funding some of these programs," said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the California Department of Finance.
This not-so-rosy forecast assumes Congress will raise the nation's debt ceiling by Oct. 17. If it does not, all federal borrowing stops and the government could halt billions of dollars in payouts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, military pay, veterans benefits and other areas that had survived the shutdown.
However, on Thursday House Speaker John Boehner reportedly told GOP colleagues he won't let the nation default.
But that doesn't mean the shutdown won't continue. If it does, Thanksgiving could find many Americans with little to be thankful for.
The cascading consequences would confront Americans at every level: The poor and elderly would lose access to food and housing, and the better-off would lose government contracts and agency supports for investment in companies and jobs.
California's food stamp program supporting nutrition for 1.9 million poor residents would run out in November, as would school programs serving about 4.5 million meals a day mostly to low-income students.
Cutting off food aid has costly consequences. For example, about 350 elderly people in Fremont, Newark and Union City get one free hot meal a day from a Meals on Wheels program, said LIFE ElderCare Executive Director Patricia Osage. The closed federal Administration on Aging reimbursed the $1,575 daily cost; Osage said she can cut back other services and tap reserves to keep delivering meals for "six or seven weeks."
After that, she said, "you would see within six months that skilled nursing facilities would be packed," as lack of nutrition undercut seniors' health. Skilled nursing costs about $1,500 per day per person, she said -- nearly as much as feeding 350 people.
Elsewhere, confusion reigns: Shutdown federal offices have no one to answer questions or resolve conflicts.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development's shutdown plan suggests the nation's 3,300 housing authorities will see public housing subsidy vouchers and operating costs cut off in mid-December -- or maybe after October, said Oakland Housing Authority Executive Director Eric Johnson. Such a cutoff could affect rent payments for tens of thousands of Bay Area households.
Nothing is certain after Nov. 1, agreed Katherine Harasz, deputy executive director of Santa Clara County's housing authority. The two program administrators would love to discuss this with HUD, but "there's nobody to call" now, Johnson said.
The shutdown could clip the Bay Area housing market's recovery. Mortgage lenders can't verify applicants' Social Security numbers or Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts. The Federal Housing Administration has only a skeleton crew, so closing some FHA-insured loans -- about 15 percent of the market -- might be delayed. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture won't close new loans for rural borrowers until the shutdown ends.
The shutdown also threatens the struggling job market. Federal money and oversight support private sector hiring, but when the money spigot for contracts and facilities twists shut, the economic effects ripple widely in surrounding communities. Locking up Yosemite National Park and the NASA Ames lab in Mountain View, for instance, empties small-business cash registers for miles around.
Federal money also primes the job pump with oversight and support for innovation: Shutting down the Food and Drug Administration's processing of new drug applications for longer than a month "could be frightening," said Travis Blaschek-Miller, spokesman at BayBio, Northern California's biotech and life-science industry group.
San Francisco-based Symic Biomedical, which is studying treatments for osteoarthritis and cardiovascular ailments, last month won two federal research grants worth a total of $409,000. It was a godsend for the struggling company, said co-founder John Paderi, but now he can't get the money.
"If (the shutdown) carries on for a while, this could be a very big problem," he said.
A prolonged closure of the Securities and Exchange Commission could affect initial public offerings, said Jeffrey Vetter, a partner and securities lawyer at Fenwick & West.
Twitter, for example, plans to raise up to $1 billion in its IPO, and The Wall Street Journal reported concern that a lengthy shutdown could interfere with its schedule.
Even the mechanics of hiring are broken: The Department of Homeland Security closed its E-Verify program, which companies use to check the immigration status of job candidates. And we won't know much about the job market because the Labor Department can't issue reports.
The U.S. Department of Education says a shutdown of more than one week "would severely curtail (its) cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities."
It is uncertain when that money will run out in California. However, "child care services for poor families and grants benefiting children of military families could be affected within days," said state Education Department spokeswoman Tina Jung.
Even the military isn't immune, although active-duty men and women are still being paid.
Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield closed its commissary, library, education center and heritage center, and its medical center is curtailing elective surgeries after furloughing more than 700 civilian employees -- almost half of those regularly on the base.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' website says VA claims for compensation, pensions, education and vocational rehabilitation "will be suspended when funds are exhausted."
The shutdown might add a month to the current 12- to 18-month backlog at the Oakland VA office, said Nathan Johnson, director of the Contra Costa County Veteran Service Office.
"They're used to waiting at this point," he said.
Staff writer Dan Nakaso contributed to this report. Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.