What Happens if the Government Shuts Down?

During the three-day federal government shutdown in January, many people were left wondering what the shutdown means for them. These questions are certain to come up again as we face a new impending deadline of February 8.

Why does the government shut down?

Congress is required to pass legislation to fund government operations. When they fail to pass the required legislation by the time previous funding expires, certain government operations end.

The need to pass required legislation has been used as political leverage during partisan conflict. The government shut down in 2013 over a dispute involving the Affordable Care Act. The most recent three-day shutdown in January 2018 involved a dispute over funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and legislative solutions for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients.

How does a government shutdown affect my daily life?

The short answer is that for most people, the effects of a short shutdown will be minimal. However, depending on your personal situation and your use of certain government services, the effect could be drastic. Lengthier shutdowns could also have more lasting consequences.

Any agency that relies on federal funding for direct service to the public would immediately cease providing that service. This encompasses services to groups like veterans, senior citizens, and other “vulnerable” groups, such as low-income families with children.

Operations for large portions of the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration also halt, leading to legitimate fears regarding public health and safety.

During the 2013 government shutdown, issuance of new Social Security numbers stopped. The E-Verify System, used to verify employment eligibility, was also inoperable during the shutdown. An inability to access these services again could negatively impact new immigrants and job seekers, among others.

National Parks are also impacted by a government shutdown. During the 2013 shutdown, all National Parks were closed. However, during the January 2018 shutdown parks were open but largely unstaffed, raising questions of visitor safety and proper protection of landmarks.  

Finally, the largest impact would probably be felt by employees of the federal government across all three branches—executive, legislative and judicial. Federal government employees are furloughed during the shutdown, or placed in temporary, non-duty, non-paid status.

How can I learn more?

If you have more questions about government shutdowns, you can check out this handy FAQ from the Washington Post, this breakdown from Vox, or this brief overview from NPR.