With the federal government just three days away from running out of funds, lawmakers still have no clear plan to prevent the government from shutting down Friday morning, threatening furloughs for hundreds of thousands of government employees and a temporary halt to a slew of critical services—here’s how a government shutdown would pan out.
A government shutdown, which happens when Congress fails to approve a spending measure by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, would shut down non-essential federal services, while essential services—mainly those related to public safety, such as emergency police and fire services—continue operating, according to the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget.
With no funds appropriated, as many as three in five of the roughly 2.1 million federal civilian employees would be forced to stop working, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, though all federal workers would still receive their paychecks once a spending agreement is reached.
Federal agencies started preparing for the looming shutdown on Thursday, following standard protocol when the government is less than a week away from running out of funding and issuing contingency plans outlining the scope of affected operations.
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged a shutdown “would be challenging” for pandemic relief efforts but told reporters the “vast majority” of public health workers supporting Covid-19 efforts—including immunization, state and local relief and updating disease treatment recommendations—would continue to work.
During shutdowns, Americans still receive ongoing benefits like Veteran Affairs, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income checks, but agency staff isn’t on hand to process new applications or claims, and national parks, monuments and Smithsonian museums are all among federal properties slated to be closed.
Additionally, agencies including the Federal Housing Administration and Small Business Administration will stop processing new loan applications, while research organizations including the National Institute of Health would be prevented from issuing new research grants or enrolling patients in clinical studies.
What To Watch For
Last week, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution that would keep the government running through December, but Senate Republicans, whose support is critical for the bill’s passage, have pledged to vote against the measure because it includes a provision to suspend the debt limit for another year. Though Democrats are eager to move on the debt limit to help shore up funds for the party’s lofty policy ambitions, many Republicans have blasted the efforts citing concerns over heightened inflation. Democrats have yet to introduce a separate funding measure, but Senate Republicans are expected to block the continuing resolution as early as Monday, and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told CNN on Sunday that Republicans will likely introduce a standalone continuing resolution without the debt limit provision this week.
The latest government shutdown in 2019 was the longest in history, with some 800,000 workers missing two paychecks and going without pay for 35 days—shattering the previous record of 21 days in 1996. The loss of labor resulted in a slew of operational inefficiencies that seeped into Americans’ day-to-day lives. Many veterans lost access to vocational rehabilitation and counseling services, while the Internal Revenue Service faced weeks-long delays in processing about $150 billion worth of tax refunds. Additionally, as many as 400,000 essential workers were forced to stay on the job without pay, resulting in some employees choosing to stay home. During the 2019 shutdown, several major airports faced delays and even briefly stopped travel as the Transportation Security Administration dealt with labor shortages, CRFB reports.
Though the United Postal Service operates under the executive branch of the federal government, the agency operates independently and continues to operate while the government is shut down, meaning its roughly 500,000 employees will continue to work and receive pay.