5 Things to Expect if the Government Shuts Down

A closure sign is posted on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., October 3, 2013 when the federal government shut down for 16 days. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

With yet another a midnight deadline looming (this one is Thursday Feb. 9, 2018), Americans are wondering if the U.S. government is going to shut down. Congressional lawmakers are currently negotiating a spending bill to keep the government operating, but anything could happen in Washington.

If Congress fails to agree on a budget to keep the government operational, it will be the second time in more than four years. In 2013, Republicans in Congress forced a shutdown when they tried to defund the Affordable Healthcare Act. The Democrats didn't budge and nearly 800,000 federal employees were out of work without pay for 16 days.

This time around, the issue centers mainly on DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — and President Donald Trump's desire to fund a wall on the southern border with Mexico. Trump has requested $18 billion in the budget over the next decade for the initial phase of the wall, which he made a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. And Trump told a small pool of reporters at Camp David on Jan. 6 "The wall is going to happen, or we're not going to have DACA." But there still seemed to be conflicting information out of the White House as recently as Tuesday, Jan. 9. when Trump held a bipartisan meeting — and televised it — to debate DACA and whether it remained a sticking point. Trump was heard saying he would "take the heat" for comprehensive immigration reform and would support a DACA plan even if he didn't like it.

Let's be clear: The entire government will not shut down if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on DACA or a border wall; they could also come to another temporary spending measure. Either way tour mail will still be picked up and delivered. The military will still be on guard. However, some things would stop functioning in a shutdown. And the longer it lasts, the worse it would get.

During the last shutdown, all nonessential employees were furloughed with no guarantee that they would be compensated for lost time when the shutdown ended, though they eventually were. Fearful that this would happen again, lawmakers have already introduced legislation that will give federal employees back pay if the government closes.

But what about those people who don't work for the government? Here are five things that could affect you if lawmakers don't cut a spending deal.

1. Air Travel

While travel in the U.S. certainly won't grind to a halt, (airports would remain open and air traffic controllers and Transportation Safety Administration security officials would remain on the job) you may notice more delays. Nonessential employees would be sent home, and that could spell longer waits. But if you need a passport, apply now. The State Department's passport department is partially funded by federal money. During the 1996 government shutdown, the State Department couldn't process about 200,000 applications, which affected hundreds of thousands of Americans.

2. Museums, Parks and Monuments

If you plan on visiting a national park or monument, you might want to rethink your trip. During past shutdowns, the National Park Service closed its historic sites and parks, including the Statue of Liberty in New York City, Gettysburg National Park in Pennsylvania and Grand Canyon National Park. In 2013, a man named Chris Cox mowed the lawn outside the Lincoln Memorial when Park Service employees could no longer cut the grass. He also emptied overflowing trash bins. The Smithsonian museums would close, as well, including the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of African American History and the National Zoo.

3. Social Services Benefits

If you get Social Security payments, don't fret. Social Security is its own mandatory spending program that wouldn't be affected. However, anyone who needs to sign up for benefits will have to wait until the shutdown ends. Still, veterans' benefits and farm subsidies may face delays.

4. Unemployment Benefits

If you currently depend on unemployment benefits, you shouldn't feel the sting of a shutdown in the short term. Unemployment benefits are paid and administered by states even though the money comes from the feds. People can still collect and sign up during a government shutdown and everything will be cool, if the funds are still available. A long shutdown, however, would put funding in jeopardy. In 2013, the federal treasury had only three weeks' worth of unemployment benefits in its account.

5. School Lunch, Food Stamps and Housing

If your child is enrolled in a free lunch program at school, they'll still be able to eat because, at least during the last shutdown, most school districts had enough money to fund the program for about a month. If the shutdown lasts longer than that, then the program could be affected.

Some programs administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be impacted, but just how remains to be seen. Most are administered locally through block grants that have already been allocated. These grants are made to public and private groups. In addition, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as food stamps, should be OK for a time because it is administered by the states. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will have to determine what will happen if a shutdown lasts for a prolonged period.

More to Explore