What happens during a government shutdown, and who is affected?

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The sun rises through cloudy skies behind the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. Congress faces a deadline to fund the government by the end of the month or risk a potentially devastating federal shutdown. There’s just 11 working days for Congress to act once the House resumes Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Mark Schiefelbein/AP

What happens during a government shutdown, and who is affected?

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As the House of Representatives and Senate work to pass appropriations bills to fund the federal government, the threat of a government shutdown looms over Washington, D.C.

While Congress works to avoid what all parties indicate would be a no-win situation, the effects of a shutdown would go far beyond the nation’s capital. Here is a look at what is typically affected in D.C. and throughout the rest of the country when the government shuts down.


Washington, D.C.

The greatest effect of a government shutdown within Washington, D.C., is on federal workers who are typically either furloughed during the duration of the budget impasse or are required to work without receiving their regular paycheck on time. Emergency services remain in operation during a government shutdown — only non-emergency functions of the federal government are forced to halt until a funding package.

Another effect within the nation’s capital is the political harm to the party or legislative body blamed for the gridlock causing the government shutdown. Typically, government shutdowns happen in divided government, as is currently the case with the GOP having a majority in the House while Democrats hold the Senate and presidency.

Across the country

The most visible effect of a government shutdown is on the various National Parks across the country. During the 2013 shutdown, parks from Yellowstone to Yosemite were closed, but during the shutdown in 2018-2019, the parks remained open, with government services at the parks being closed.

Other effects that people would see from a government shutdown would be in airports and with entitlement programs.

The most recent government shutdown nearly five years ago saw Transportation Security Administration agents still have to report for their jobs despite not being paid on time during the shutdown. Due to the untimely pay, several TSA agents declined to go to work, and security lines at airports across the country saw increased wait times.

Entitlement programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Social Security, and Medicare can be affected in various ways while the government is shut down. SNAP can see a delay in benefits getting sent out if the shutdown is prolonged, and card issuance and benefit verification can be halted for Social Security and Medicare. Benefits for those already enrolled in Social Security or Medicare continue through a shutdown.


Much of the worrying over a government shutdown has come from the infighting within the House GOP overspending, with some Republicans saying they are concerned over the possibility.

While House Republican leadership seems set on trying to get appropriations bills passed before the Oct. 1 deadline. The House has a long way to go before funding for the federal government for the next year is sorted out.

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