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What happens during a US government shutdown?

Ten things to expect.

New Statesman
A sign indicates that the Lincoln Memorial and all national parks are closed from 1 October. Photo:Getty.

At midnight local time on Monday night the US government went into shutdown for the first time in 17 years as Congress failed to agree new budget. So what happens when Government spending stops?

1. 800,000 public sector workers are sent home

Around 800,000 of the 2.1 million people working in the public sector will be sent home with no pay. There is no guarantee that they will be compensated for these lost earnings, although they were following shutdowns of 1995-1996. Those who will be retained are “essential staff” like the police and law enforcement officers, immigration services, those overseeing nuclear safety, dams and power lines, and rescue services.

2. Rubbish collection stops in Washington DC

Because Washington DC is a federal district that needs permission from Congress to spend money, services like rubbish collection, street cleaning and libraries will be shut down. Schools and public transport will continue running, however.

3. National parks, museums and galleries will shut

The US’s national parks and museums, galleries, zoos and landmarks run by federal government will close, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York, the National Zoo, and the Washington Monument.  Only essential staff will go into work, included those needed to protect “life and property” and, in the case of the National Zoo, to feed the animals. Holidaymakers currently camping in National Parks will be given 48 hours to leave, while day-trippers will be made to leave immediately.

4. Air travel continues as usual, but passport applications may not be processed

Air traffic control and airport security staff will continue to work, and airport authorities have said travellers needn’t worry about longer waits at security. Passport applications will continue to be accepted until money runs out. If this shutdown last as long as the shutdowns in 1996, this means at some point applications will stop being processed. In the 1990s this affected 200,000 applicants.

5. Citizens face administrative delays

Staff cutbacks at the Internal Revenue Services mean audits will stop and no one will be able to assist if people have questions about their taxes. Benefits for pensioners and military veterans are likely to be delayed because of staff cutbacks. Permits for guns are unlikely to be processed, and more worryingly, small businesses applying for loans won’t have them processed.

6. The US economy suffers

The last shutdown was estimated to have cost the US government $1.5bn and Goldman Sachs believes a three-week shutdown could cut 0.9 per cent off GDP growth this quarter. The value of the US dollar has already fallen on the news.

7. Some Department of Health Services are shut down

Notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be forced to cut back their services, so they will be less able to respond if there's a disease outbreak.

8. The military will keep working

On-duty military staff will carry on working, and an emergency bill passed two hours before the shutdown will protect their pay. Around half of civilian members of the defence forces won’t be reporting to work at all.

9. The post office will run as usual

The post office will continue to work, because it is funded by stamp sales and postage fees, and therefore not dependent on federal government cheques.

10. The squabbling politicians who triggered the crisis will still get paid

The salaries of senators, representatives, and President Barack Obama won’t be affected.