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24 April 2013updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

What happens during a US government shutdown?

Ten things to expect.

By Sophie McBain

Donald Trump’s obsession with “building a wall” on the US-Mexico border is threatening to bring the US government to the halt. If the President refuses to sign a bill which does not include funding for this project, Americans could see a repeat of 2013.

Then, 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

US 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.

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

Air traffic control and airport security staff will continue to work. In 2013, airport authorities said travellers needn’t worry about longer waits at security. Passport applications will continue to be accepted until money runs out. However, in 1996, applications eventually stopped being processed, with hundreds of thousands of applicants affected. 

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 shutdown in the 1990s was estimated to have cost the US government $1.5bn. According to Standard and Poor’s , a rating agency, the 2013 shutdown cost the economy $24bn

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. In 2013, 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 Donald Trump won’t be affected.