On September 30, Congress passed a stopgap bill to fund the federal government until mid-November, avoiding a government shutdown. President Biden signed the bill into law, meaning lawmakers now have until November 17 to pass a long-term spending bill.
A shutdown of the United States government affects people, government agencies, and businesses not just here, but worldwide.
Here are the answers to some of Americans’ most-asked questions about a government shutdown:
What is a government shutdown?
A government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass or the president refuses to sign a spending bill to fund the federal government’s operations. This results in a funding gap that can cause several government functions to be temporarily disrupted. Government shutdowns are often resolved by Congress passing continuing resolutions, which provide short-term funding while negotiations for a long-term solution continue. Every shutdown since 1990 has been ended with a continuing resolution.
Because the federal government’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30, many shutdowns occur in September and October.
The FY 2019 government shutdown lasted for 34 days, from December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, making it the longest shutdown in US history.
How many times has the government shut down?
The current budget process was established in 1976. Since then, the government has had 20 funding gaps, resulting in 10 shutdowns for various lengths of time.
Before the 1980s, funding gaps did not usually result in government shutdowns. Agencies would continue to operate with the expectation that funding would resume in the future. But since 1982, shortly after the basis for government shutdowns was established, funding gaps have led to full or partial shutdowns more frequently.
A government shutdown leads to the temporary closure or reduced operation of non-essential government services. Some federal employees may be furloughed or temporarily laid off, while essential employees continue to work without pay.
Who is affected?
A shutdown primarily affects non-essential federal employees, as well as people and businesses that rely on government services. Many non-essential government employees are temporarily furloughed during a shutdown, while essential personnel whose funding is not dependent on annual appropriations bills – such as military service members, law enforcement agents, and air traffic controllers – continue to work.
Federal employees classified as “excepted” are in roles whose funding is dependent on appropriations bills but who are still required to work during a shutdown. Agencies are legally required to compensate these employees for their work during a shutdown, even if funding is not immediately available to pay them during the shutdown.
What is a furlough?
A furlough is a mandatory temporary unpaid leave of absence for employees, typically due to a lack of funding. Non-essential federal employees are furloughed during government shutdowns until Congress approves funding to resume operations. Furloughed federal employees generally receive back pay when the shutdown ends.
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What services are impacted by a government shutdown?
The specific agencies and services affected by a government shutdown depend on the details of the funding legislation in effect at the time of the shutdown. Past shutdowns have affected numerous services and agencies, including:
Frequently asked questions about government shutdowns
Are national parks and museums open during a shutdown?
Depending on available funding and staffing, national parks and museums may close or continue to operate but with limited services. National parks that remain open may have reduced or no visitor services. For updated information on specific park closures or limitations, visit the National Park Service (NPS) website.
Do VA payments continue during a government shutdown?
Government shutdowns don’t affect Veteran Affairs benefits such as compensation, pension, education, and housing. However, other VA services may be reduced, and offices may be closed. For more information, visit the VA’s shutdown contingency plan.
Are passports or travel affected by a shutdown?
Passport services are not expected to be affected by a government shutdown, although it depends on the length of the shutdown and the location of the passport office. Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and air traffic control workers are considered essential and would work without pay.
Are Social Security benefits paid during a shutdown?
Social Security benefits will continue to be paid during a government shutdown. According to the Social Security Administration’s contingency plan, essential services, including processing benefit payments, continue even during a shutdown. However, some administrative operations not critical to direct service may be delayed.
Does Medicare and Medicaid coverage continue during a shutdown?
Per the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Contingency Plan, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is essential, and benefits continue during a government shutdown. This also applies to Child Nutrition and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children programs.
Do you have to pay taxes while the government is shut down?
Yes, paying taxes is still required during a government shutdown. The IRS typically continues to process tax returns and payments. However, certain services, such as issuing tax refunds or conducting audits, may be delayed. For information on operations during a shutdown, visit the IRS’s contingency plan.
What happens to Pell Grants and other federal grants during a shutdown?
The disbursement of Pell Grants and other federal educational grants continues as usual because their funds are appropriated a year in advance. However, some administrative tasks may be delayed. For more details, refer to the Department of Education’s contingency plan.
Are post offices open during a government shutdown? Does mail still get delivered?
Yes, post offices remain open and mail delivery continues during a government shutdown. The Postal Service (USPS) operates independently from the federal government and generates its own revenue, so it is not directly affected by a shutdown. For more information, visit the most recent USPS shutdown contingency plan.
Will you receive unemployment benefits during a shutdown?
Unemployment benefits are generally not affected by a government shutdown. State unemployment insurance benefits also continue as the funding for these programs comes from state sources. For more information about unemployment benefits, contact your state's unemployment insurance office.
Are FHA loans affected by a government shutdown?
During a government shutdown, processing Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans may be delayed due to reduced staffing. However, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which oversees the FHA, maintains a limited staff to continue loan processing and other critical functions. For more information, refer to HUD’s shutdown FAQs.
Is student financial aid affected by a government shutdown?
Similar to Pell Grants, most federal student aid funds are funded in advance and not directly affected by a government shutdown. Financial aid disbursement generally continues as usual. However, some administrative tasks might be delayed. Refer to the Department of Education’s contingency plan for more details.