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After experiencing our recent, brief government shutdown, you may have been wondering what longer shutdowns mean for you. Which government offices and agencies stay up and running? Which of them close until the shutdown ends?

Here’s what you need to know about government shutdowns.

What are government shutdowns?

A government shutdown is an official closure of all nonessential government offices due to a lack of approval of the federal budget for the approaching fiscal year. Approval occurs only if Congress passes every one of the spending bills related to the federal budget. If there is no agreement, a shutdown continues, forcing many federally operated programs to halt all their work and services. Some programs will stay open, operating on a contingency plan. Others will subsist on cash reserves for as long as they last.

In short, a shutdown exists until Congress reaches a compromise and passes a spending bill.

What happens to government employees?

A government shutdown doesn’t mean an extra week’s vacation for federal workers. Quite the contrary, thousands of federal employees go on furlough or unpaid leave. In previous shutdowns, furloughed government workers received retroactive pay once Congress reached an agreement and the shutdown ended.

There are many essential government programs that keep operating as usual. However, most of these workers are not paid for their work.

Shutdowns affect which government agencies?

As mentioned, all essential government agencies are typically running as usual. Several of them are understaffed until a shutdown ends, and many employees are not paid for work done during the shutdown. In addition, here’s how a shutdown affects various federal agencies and divisions:

1.) Military

The military is an essential agency and executes all overseas operations as usual. Military personnel work as usual and receive full pay unless the shutdown stretches on.

It’s important to note, though, that many civilian Department of Defense employees do not work during shutdowns, including military academy instructors and private maintenance contractors.

2.) Veterans’ Affairs

More than 335,000 of the VA’s 377,000 employees work throughout a shutdown.

3.) Social Security

The Social Security Administration distributes checks on schedule, and most of the SSA’s staff continues to work despite the shutdown.

4.) Postal Service

Neither rain, nor snow, nor government shutdowns can keep your mail carrier home. The Postal Service is a government-owned agency, but it operates on its own stream of revenue. Shutdowns do not affect their operations.

5.) Justice Department

Criminal litigation proceeds as planned and all courts continue to operate as usual throughout shutdowns.

6.) Housing and Urban Development

Only 300 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 7,800 employees are exempt from furloughs. Since it’s operating with only a fraction of workers, the department continues to provide essential services – like housing for the homeless – but private applications for government housing aid will likely be delayed.

7.) Education

The DOE’s contingency plan calls for upward of 90% of its staff to be furloughed during the first week of a shutdown. Only 6% of its staff is expected to return to work if a shutdown lasts more than a week.

8.) Passports and visas

Employees process passport and visa applications as usual, but many applicants will experience delays due to some shuttered processing facilities.

9.) White House

During the January 2018 shutdown, 1,056 members of the Executive Office of the President were placed on furlough, while 659 workers were considered essential and continued to report to work. All furloughed staff members were expected to report to work on Monday, January 22. However, they were only allowed to remain in the building for four hours and to engage in “shutdown activities” such as setting out-of-office messages and issuing instructions for non-furloughed colleagues.

10.) TSA and air traffic control

The TSA and air traffic control are essential and therefore operate as normal.

11.) Homeland Security

Close to 90% of the Department of Homeland Security’s employees are essential and work as usual.

12.) National parks and landmarks

In 2013, national parks closed to the public during the government shutdown. However, during the 2018 shutdown, national parks, recreation areas, and monuments remained in full operating mode. Most landmarks, such as Independence Hall in Philadelphia, closed. The Statue of Liberty, in New York, reopened with the city picking up the tab for operating costs.

Economic effect

Government shutdowns have always had a devastating effect on the economy. With loan processing delayed and halted, attractions shuttered and thousands of businesses that rely on the patronization of furloughed workers suffering a loss, the economy can take a hard hit. In the past, the government lost an estimated $20 billion in revenue during a shutdown. Had the 2018 shutdown extended further, with many parks and recreational centers operating as usual, the losses may not have been as severe.

Congress works hard when trying to reach budget plans to satisfy all parties. Hopefully, if shutdowns do occur, an agreement occurs quickly and the shutdown ends.

Your Turn: Did the most recent government shutdown affect you or someone you know?

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