What Does a Government “Shutdown” actually Means? What You Need To Know

- By Ben Swann - October 1, 2013

Congress did not approve a spending bill to fund the government as of midnight, which means right now, parts of the federal government are shutdown. So, what does this actually mean?

The fiscal year for the U.S. federal government runs October 1st - September 30th. In order to keep things functioning as normal, Congress needed to pass a temporary spending bill before October 1, 2013… they did not.

So what happens now?

Well, despite the claims of the sky will be falling as a result of the shutdown, not too much will change. The mail will continue to come. The military will continue to be paid, Social Security checks will continue to be sent out and Veterans hospitals will remain open.

Who decides which parts of the government remain open and which close?

It is all comes down to the designation of “essential” and “non-essential” parts of government. Of the roughly 3.3 million government employees, most are considered “essential”. Therefore, the shutdown will not affect them in the long-term. The “essential” employees will be paid regardless of how long the shutdown continues but their checks may be delayed. At the end of the shutdown, those employees should receive retroactive pay. That is not the case, however, for the roughly 1.5 million active duty military members who will be paid no matter what.

In addition, those who will continue to be paid during the shutdown, the President and members of Congress, though members of their respective staffs could be furloughed because they might be considered “non-essential”. Congressional pay cannot be touched.

Which parts of the government will remain open?

Any employee or office who provide a “national security” function or “foreign relations essential to national security” are exempt. Therefore, military is still paid and U.S. embassies will remain open.

Also, the U.S. Border Patrol will continue to operate along with air traffic control, federal prisons, federal law enforcement, operation of the power grid, and guarding of federal property. Why? Because any employee who conducts “essential activities that protect life and property” are also exempt from the shutdown.

Which parts of the government will close?

About 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed and told stay at home and the affect of the shutdown will be felt largely among the National Parks Service, and museums. Also, the servicing of passport applications will be delayed and paying out of Small Business Administration loans, will halt. In addition, financial regulators for the FTC will not be working and the Justice Department will suspend many civil cases.

The last time a government shutdown took place was 1996. At that time, under President Bill Clinton the government was shutdown for 21 days.

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