Everything You Need to Know About Government Shutdowns

Government shutdown is expensive and can harm the economy.
Government shutdown is expensive and can harm the economy.

A government shutdown is exactly what it sounds like. The government receives its funding from the budget decided by Congress and most of the government has the funding in place. Congress has to pass and the President has to sign the budget for the coming year. The budget has 12 appropriation bills and it makes up the discretionary spending budget. However, other agencies have been operating on several extensions and when they expire, they begin the process of a shutdown. When there is a government shutdown, agencies and federal departments shut down and airports, parks, prisons, schools, and libraries remain open. 

In the past, there have been a total of 13 shutdowns since 1982. The shutdown ranged from 3 days to 21 days. The longest shutdown of 21 days was in December 1995 and January 1996 under President Bill Clinton. Here is everything you need to know.

US postal service does not shut down in a Government shutdown.

The entire federal government does not shut down

There are excepted activities that will continue irrespective of a shutdown. These activities protect life and property. Activities related to disaster assistance, air traffic control, criminal investigation, and other activities that are essential for public health and safety continue to operate with a reduced workforce.

A few agencies and employees working in them are exempted from the shutdown. US Postal service keeps working during a shutdown because it operates on income from postage.

Those employees whose salaries are funded from trust funds or through fees they charge will continue working and will get paid as normal.

A shutdown is expensive

Shutdowns can cost a lot of money for the government. In the 2013 shutdown, lost productivity cost the government $2 billion in payroll. The government was not able to collect fees and pay interest on payments made late because of the shutdown. 

A shutdown can be avoided

There are two ways to avoid a shutdown, that is, by passing appropriations or a continuing resolution. A total of 12 appropriation bills have to be passed, they are divided by subject area and the funding levels allocated in a budget resolution.

A shutdown can be avoided when the Congress passes all 12 bills through the chambers and has them signed by the President by November 21. It can either be done by enacting every bill individually or by packaging them together. 

The shutdown will impact everyone

A shutdown doesn’t just impact the government employees. All shutdowns have had far-ranging impacts. It costs millions to the economy daily and the payments to families of deceased service members are delayed.

If a shutdown lasts longer, even private companies begin to furlough workers. 

Voters do not support government shutdowns

Voters oppose the idea of a government shutdown. It damages the view of the Government as a whole. People want the elected representatives to compromise and not to stick to the principle and have a shutdown.

More than 70% of the voters view a shutdown as a bad thing on the economy. 

Employees are not paid

Professionals who receive salaries out of the appropriations which are due to lapse will be sent home. Those whose services are necessary for the safety of human life or the protection of property will continue to work.

They continue to report to work as normal but they will not be paid for that time.

They will be paid after Congress passes and the president signs a new appropriation. When they would be paid will depend on the payroll cycle and the timing of the new spending authority.

Employees who are not exempt will be put on unpaid furlough and they only perform minimal activities. Every agency will decide when and how to notify employees of the status. 

Impact of the shutdown on federal employee benefits

Coverage for health insurance will continue during the unpaid period. The share of premium accumulated is withheld until the employee returns to normal pay status.

Life insurance coverage continues for the employee for an unpaid period of one year. There will be no impact on future retirement benefits for employees. 

What will remain open?

You will be able to visit national parks and monuments during the shutdown. Parks remain open for wildlife watching, hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and other services that need park staff will close.

Monuments and open-air parks will remain open. You will also receive mail because the Postal Service is self-funded. 

How can a shutdown end?

Shutdown ends when Congress and the President agree to start the flow of money again. It is either a compromise or a one-side backing down but it depends on the political landscape.

Public opinion also matters. Sometimes the government reopens temporarily and the negotiations continue. 

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