Factbox: What happens in a U.S. government shutdown?

Mon Feb 28, 2011 1:19pm EST

(Reuters) - The White House and the U.S. Congress have until the end of this week to reach agreement on a federal spending-cut bill for the rest of this fiscal year -- or face a partial shutdown of the U.S. government.

The threat of a shutdown has eased in recent days after Republicans proposed a stopgap spending bill to fund government for two weeks. But there was no sign of an immediate deal between the two parties.

It has been 15 years since the last federal government shutdown over spending disagreements. Here are some facts about what could happen:

* Hundreds of thousands of the 4.4 million federal workers could be idled as nonessential, disrupting all but vital U.S. services such as national defense, emergency medical care and air traffic control. In addition, some employees of federal contractors may also be furloughed.

* Unlike the last two shutdowns, both of which occurred in the 1990s, this one would take place during tax preparation and filing season. That could mean delayed tax refunds to an untold number of Americans, congressional aides say.

* The last shutdown closed much of the federal government from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. National parks and museums were closed, an estimated 200,000 applications for U.S. passports went unprocessed and work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases was suspended.

* Also during the last shutdown, new patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, hotline calls to NIH about diseases were not answered, and toxic waste cleanup work at 609 sites stopped.

* A shutdown may be felt on a number of fronts, including delays in approving import and export licenses, Social Security applications and benefits for military veterans, congressional aides say.

* Essential personnel in the last shutdown -- employees who remained on the job -- included members of the U.S. military, federal criminal investigators, those involved in federal disaster assistance and workers vital to keeping crucial elements of the U.S. money and banking system up and running.

* Since 1980, all federal agencies have been required to have updated plans for potential shutdowns that include who would be furloughed and who would be kept on the job.

(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Paul Simao)

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