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What really happens during a government shutdown?

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In a government shutdown, all non-essential government services will cease operation, and employees performing those duties will be furloughed. In 2013, the government shutdown affected 850,000 employees. (Image source: zrfphoto/Getty Images)

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are negotiating a 2018 budget legislation in preparation for a government shutdown if a deal is not reached by Friday evening (12 a.m. on Saturday, to be exact). While Democrat lawmakers insist on a deal for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, little progress has been made as Republicans hold strong to their demands of border wall funding.

What does a government shutdown mean?

All non-essential government services will cease operation, and employees performing those duties will be furloughed, which means they will be forced to take an unpaid leave of absence.

This typically includes:

  • National parks
  • National monuments
  • Smithsonian museums
  • Maintaining federal websites
  • Processing of passports and VISAs
  • Smaller agencies of federal government, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Federal Housing Administration will see delays on applications for things such as drilling applications and mortgage applications, respectively.

What essential services continue running during a government shutdown?

  • All military branches
  • Federal law enforcement agencies
  • U.S. Postal Service
  • Social Security payments will still be sent out
  • Medicaid checks will still be delivered
  • VA hospitals
  • SNAP/food stamps are still available to those who qualify

How many government employees can expect to be furloughed?

During the last government shutdown in 2013 about 850,000 federal employees were furloughed, which was approximately 40 percent of the workforce. That shutdown lasted 16 days before Congress reached a deal.

Once a budget deal is reached, Congress typically passes legislation to retroactively pay furloughed workers for the days missed.

How many times has a shutdown happened before?

According to the Congressional Research Service, there have been 12 shutdowns since 1981, the year it was codified in the Anti-Deficiency Act that government must stop running in the event of a funding gap. Previous to 1981, the government stayed up and running in anticipation of Congress reaching a deal and retroactively funding the programs.

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