GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: FAQ AND RESOURCES
Effective midnight on January 20, 2018, the federal government does not have the authority to spend money, effectively shutting down some government operations until both the U.S. House and Senate can pass legislation and the President signs it into law.
1.What causes a shutdown? Under our Constitution, Congress passes spending bills that fund the federal government. If Congress fails to pass a spending bill at the end of a fiscal year (September 30) or at the end of a continuing resolution, or if the President vetoes a spending bill, the government does not have the legal authority to spend money.
2.What's a continuing resolution? It is the responsibility of Congress to pass a budget then 12 separate appropriations bills which fund the government. While the House has passed all 12 appropriations bills this year, the Senate has not and a stopgap continuing resolution, or CR, that maintains spending at current levels for all or part of the year was in effect until January 20 to give leadership in the House and Senate, and the White House, time to negotiate a new government spending bill.
3.Why can't Congress agree? Some in Congress wanted to include separate legislation to the government spending bill to address individuals who were brought to this country illegally as minors – often called Dreamers or DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. While most members of Congress want to see a solution to this issue, negotiations are continuing on the legal status of DACA recipients and many didn’t want to hold up government funding. Ultimately, there were enough votes in the Senate to block a government spending bill.
4.Why is this happening now? The government runs on a fiscal year from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Shutdowns can happen at other times of the year when Congress passes a partial-year spending bill. Congress last voted on a partial government spending bill in December that lasted until January 20.
5.Could government agencies ignore the shutdown? Under a federal law known as the Anti-Deficiency Act, it can be a felony to spend taxpayer money without an appropriation from Congress.
6.When would a shutdown begin? The government doesn’t immediately stop when there is a lapse in federal spending – some government agencies use fee-based services, and others are directed to stay open. The day immediately following a lapse in the CR is the start of the process to shut down the government.
7.When would the shutdown end? Immediately after the President signs a spending bill. As a practical matter, it could be noon the following day before most government offices that were shut down would reopen their doors.
8.How many times has the government shut down in the past? Since 1977, there have been 18 shutdowns, according to the Congressional Research Service.
9.How long do shutdowns usually last? Most last no more than three days. Some last less than a day.
10.When was the longest shutdown in history? 21 days from Dec. 16, 1995, through Jan. 5, 1996. That's 21 days.
11.Will I still get my mail? Yes. The U.S. Postal Service functions as an independent business unit.
12.Can I get a passport? Maybe. Fee-based services like passports and foreign visitor visas will likely still operate, but many consular affairs officers may be furloughed.
13.Can I visit national parks? Maybe. Unlike previous government shutdowns, the Department of Interior has stated it will try to keep national parks and public lands as accessible as possible.
14.Will Washington museums be open? The Smithsonian, the National Zoo and the Holocaust Museum are open for the weekend, but if the government shutdown continues they may close. Private museums, such as the Newseum, the Spy Museum and Mount Vernon, would remain open. Rule of thumb: If it's usually free, it's probably closed.
15.What about the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts? The Kennedy Center does receive an annual appropriation from Congress, but also runs on ticket revenue and endowment funds. The Kennedy Center has stated all events will take place as scheduled.
16.What about the National Archives? All archives and most presidential libraries will be closed, unless they're operated by a private foundation — as all pre-Herbert Hoover presidential museums are.
17.Will the Patent and Trademark Office be open? Yes. The office can continue to operate off user fees and other funds for the general length of any shutdown.
18.Will disaster response be affected? No. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and all agencies related to protecting our homeland security will be open.
19.Will e-Verify be affected? Yes. The government system to allow companies to voluntarily check the legal work status of its employees is shut down.
20.Will federal courts be closed? The federal judiciary will remain open for the time being.
21.Will there be longer lines at the airport? Not more than usual. The Transportation Security Administration says air passenger screening is "necessary for safety of life and protection of property" and all screeners are exempted.
22.Will Amtrak trains continue to run? Yes, for now.
23.Will the Consumer Product Safety Commission continue to issue product recalls? Yes, if the products "create an immediate threat to the safety of human life."
24.Would seniors continue to get Social Security benefits? Yes. Social Security is a mandatory spending program, and the people who send those checks would continue to work under a legal doctrine called "necessary implication."
25.Can I apply for Social Security benefits, appeal a denial of benefits, change my address or sign up for direct deposit? Yes.
26.Will the government continue to pay unemployment benefits? Yes. According to the Department of Labor “there is no lapse in the payment of Unemployment Insurance benefits to unemployed workers” or for those benefiting from Trade Adjustment Assistance.
27.Will I be able to get food stamps? Yes, food stamps will continue to be funded.
28.What about Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC? It could be affected if federal administrative costs are not paid for a longer period of time, however, WIC is administered by the states and there may be state funds available.
29.And the federal school lunch program? Schools are reimbursed for these costs on a monthly basis and are allowed to carry over funds from the previous fiscal year.
30.What will happen to veterans receiving compensation for service- or combat-related wounds and injuries? Veterans should still receive this compensation.
31.Can I still get a federally backed loan? The Federal Housing Administration, the agency that guarantees about 30 percent of all American home mortgages, wouldn't be able to underwrite or approve any new loans during a shutdown, causing a delay for those using one of those loans to purchase a home.
32.Does that mean I can't get a VA mortgage? No. The Department of Veterans Affairs says loans are funded via user fees and should continue. However, during previous shutdowns, "loan Guaranty certificates of eligibility and certificates of reasonable value were delayed."
33.Will deceased veterans still be able to get a burial benefit? Yes. Burial benefits, headstones and death notices will still be available.
34.Will student loans be impacted? Not in the short term. The 14 million students receiving direct federal student loans and Pell grants would continue to receive them, dependent on the length of the lapse and the Secretary’s discretion to classify the staff who process them as essential.
35.How does the shutdown affect the schools and kids in special programs? It shouldn't. Schools are run by states with federal aid for programs such as special education. While it will be at the Secretary’s discretion, the staff needed to process payments to state and local school districts will not be furloughed.
36.Will federal retirees continue to get their pensions and health care? Yes. Those benefits are paid through trust funds that federal employees pay into.
37.Will veterans still be able to get health care? Yes. The Department of Veterans Affairs services will continue.
38.Can I still get a Small Business Administration loan? No.
39.I have a government benefit check I haven't cashed. Is it still good? Yes. The shutdown applies only to the government's ability to make new payments.
40.Will government websites shut down? Most websites are continuing to operate but there won't be tech support to fix them if they break. Websites necessary for critical government functions will still operate, but won't be updated.
41.How many federal employees would be furloughed? The government has not given an official estimate.
42.Does anyone have a guess? In 2013, about 800,000 of the 2.1 million civilian federal employees in the executive branch, excluding intelligence agencies, were furloughed.
43.Why do some federal employees continue to work during a shutdown? The law contains exemptions for several classes of employees. The biggest exemption is for employees necessary to protect public health, safety or property. But property could include government data, ongoing research experiments or other intangibles. Political appointees are exempt because they cannot be placed on leave by law. Employees necessary for the President to carry out his constitutional responsibilities are exempt. Finally, employees whose salaries are paid from sources outside an annual spending bill can still get paid and report to work.
44.What's a furlough? Unpaid leave. Or, in the official definition from the Office of Personnel Management: "A furlough is the placing of an employee in a temporary non-duty, nonpay status because of lack of work or funds, or other nondisciplinary reasons."
45.Who decides which employees work and which go home? Each agency is responsible for coming up with its own contingency plan, based on guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. Those plans are then sent to the White House for review.
46.Would the President be paid during a shutdown? Yes. The president's $400,000 salary is mandatory spending. If furloughs begin to affect the government's ability to process payroll, his paycheck could be delayed.
47.What about White House staff? Some high-ranking presidential appointees are exempt from the Annual and Sick Leave Act of 1951, which means they can essentially be made to work unpaid overtime. Also, any employee necessary for the President to carry out his constitutional duties would be exempt.
48.And the President's personal aides? The White House has 90 staffers who work in the residence. During a shutdown, 15 of them would stay on the job.
49.Would Congress continue to be paid during a shutdown? Yes. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1992, holds that "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened." Intended to prevent Congress from voting itself a raise, it also protects members from a pay cut. When the shutdown ends, I will be donating my salary earned each day the government was shutdown to a charity in the Third District.
50.What about congressional staff? Like other federal employees, they would be deemed essential or non-essential. Essential staff would include those necessary to carry out constitutional responsibilities, such as the parliamentarians, or for protection of members, such as the sergeants-at-arms. Staff of the appropriations committees may also be needed to write the law that would end the shutdown. I have deemed all my staff essential – I wouldn’t have hired them if I didn’t think they were.
51.Will Congress cancel any scheduled hearings? It remains to be seen if the shutdown lasts passed this weekend.
52.Will members of Congress close their district offices? Previous Guidance from the House Administration Committee says that only staffers who were needed for members to carry out their constitutional responsibilities – writing laws, voting and communicating with constituents – will continue to work. All of my offices will be open as usual, and my D.C. office is open every day until the shutdown is over.
53.Will active-duty military be furloughed? No. All active-duty military are essential and should report as scheduled.
54.Will civilian defense workers be furloughed? The furlough will apply only to about half of the department’s 740,000 civilian workers. Military contractors would not be affected either, as long as their work has already been funded.
55.Will active-duty military be paid during a shutdown? No. Guidance from the Defense Department issued on Friday said military personnel would not be paid — neither would necessary civilian personnel.
56.Why aren't military salaries considered mandatory spending? "Mandatory" and "discretionary" are congressional terms that apply to how Congress spends the money, but has nothing to do with the importance of the spending. Mandatory spending includes programs like Social Security and Medicare, which have separate sources of funding and run automatically. Discretionary spending includes anything that Congress spends year-to-year with tax revenue and borrowed money.
57.Will military health care be impacted? While military hospitals and on base dental clinics will stay open for emergencies, inpatient care and acute care, all other types of care – including elective procedures and primary-care appointments – will be canceled until the shutdown is lifted.
58.Could federal employees simply volunteer their services? No. A 19th-century federal law forbids volunteers.
59.Would federal employees get paid retroactively, even if they didn't work? Maybe. Congress has historically granted retro-active pay to employees.
THE LONG TERM
60.How much money would a shutdown save taxpayers? It’s unlikely to save the government money, some studies have shown that a government shutdown costs money.
61.What effect would a shutdown have on the economy? Economists have said a short-term shutdown will not have an impact on the economy, but if it lasts awhile we could see impacts.