A government shut down can interrupt many of the services we come to expect as part of our daily lives. Here we’ll discuss what to expect if the Federal Government shuts down. We’ll also discuss the impacts that the government shut down has on the citizens of the United States.
What Is a Government Shut Down?
When Congress cannot agree on spending for funding the United States government, there is a government shut down. Government agencies that are considered nonessential will stop working. Employees who work for these agencies are furloughed. This means they do not report to work and they do not get paid.
What Causes This to Happen?
When Congress cannot agree on spending for funding the United States government, the government cannot continue working. Congress can fund what is called a continuing resolution to keep the federal government functioning temporarily. This is sometimes called a stopgap measure. Unless funding is voted on and approved by the House and Senate, a shut down can occur.
A Brief History of Government Shut Downs
The government has experienced shut downs 18 times since 1976. Here is a breakdown of these occurrences, along with a very brief cause of each. The start date of each shut down is listed below.
- September 1976 – There is a 10 day shut down under President Gerald Ford over funding of the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare.
- September 1977 – There is a 12 day shut down under President Jimmy Carter over abortion.
- October 1977 – There is an 8 day shut down under President Jimmy Carter over abortion.
- November 1977 – There is another 8 day shut down under President Jimmy Carter over abortion.
- September 1978 – There is an 18 day shut down under President Jimmy Carter over funding of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
- September 1979 – There is an 11 day shut down under President Jimmy Carter over civil servant pay and abortion.
- November 1981 – There is a 2 day shut down under President Ronald Reagan over domestic budget cuts.
- September 1982 – There is a 1 day shut down under President Ronald Reagan because a new spending bill wasn‘t passed in time.
- December 1982 – There is a 3 day shut down under President Ronald Reagan over nuclear missile funding.
- November 1983 – There is another 3 day shut down under President Ronald Reagan over education, defense spending, and foreign aid.
- September 1984 – There is a 2 day shut down under President Ronald Reagan over crime, water projects, and civil rights.
- October 1984 – There is a 1 day shut down under President Ronald Reagan over crime, water projects, and civil rights.
- October 1986 – There is a 1 day shut down under President Ronald Reagan over goods and labor, and welfare.
- December 1987 – There is a 1 day shut down under President Ronald Reagan over funding to the Nicaraguan Contras.
- October 1990 – There is a 3 day shutdown under President George H.W. Bush over deficit reduction.
- November 1995 – There is a 5 day shutdown under President Bill Clinton over Medicare premiums, balancing the budget, and environmental regulations.
- December 1995 – There is a 21 day shutdown under President Bill Clinton over balancing the budget.
- October 2013 – There is a 16 day shutdown under President Barack Obama over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
What Stops Working & How Does It Impact Voters
Not everything in the government stops working when there is a government shut down. Some departments are considered essential, and continue to report for work. Others go on furlough.
Essential Employees Report for Work
The military reports to work when there is a government shut down. That’s because our military are considered essential. Other functions, such as air traffic control and federal prisons are also considered essential. Social Security benefits continue to be paid. The Post Office, which operates by supporting itself using its own fees, will still function. Generally, those considered essential to safety and security, including foreign embassies and law enforcement, remain open.
Most Border Patrol and customs officers will report to work when there is government shut down. The same goes for law enforcement such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also reports. Not all offices are treated the same, however. Some offices that play a role in the safety of the public are considered nonessential.
Nonessential Employees Do Not Go to Work
Nonessential employees, also called non-excepted employees, do not report for work when there is a government shut down. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) loses a large percentage of its employees when there is a government shut down. The offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Health and Safety Administration are also severely affected adversely. For these organizations, routine work would cease, including investigations and inspections. Emergency management would still occur, however.
Back in 2013, some of the effects of the shut down were documented. Up to 850,000 Federal employees were furloughed per day. The National Institutes of Health lost about 75% of its employees. The CDC lost about 66% of its employees and as a result, the tracking of disease outbreaks was cut back. The National Science Foundation lost 98% of its employees during the shut down. The Federal Drug Administration had to delay approval of drugs and medical devices. The Environmental Protection Agency had to stop its inspections of approximately 1,200 locations.
Things that you might not think about were also affected. Tax refunds of near $4 billion were postponed. The food program Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that gives healthy food to low-income families was unfunded during the government shut down. Veterans’ disability requests were not reviewed. Approximately 20,000 applications per week went unexamined, delaying benefits to veterans.
One of the most visible results of the government shut down is that its national parks, including the Smithsonian and National Zoo in Washington, D.C., are closed. California tourism magnets like Yosemite, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area close. During the last government shut down in 2013, these types of closures resulted in an estimated $500 million in lost revenue from tourism. Standard & Poor’s said that the last shut down reduced a 3% growth to 2.4% and caused $24 billion dollars in loss to the U.S. economy.
What many people don’t think about is the effect that a government shut down can have on morale. Morale can fall when you don’t have the staff you need to do your job. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the United States Border Patrol still function with field agents during a government shut down, many support staff are not at work. Military and government workers deemed essential still report for work, but they don’t get paid. This includes our military members in combat zones. (Note that military and government workers were awarded back pay after previous government shut downs, but that is not guaranteed). It is also worth noting that members of Congress continue to be paid during a government shut down because there is a law that protects their pay.
There are everyday issues that can add stress to the lives of the low-income families dependent on assistance. Many programs for low-income recipients, such as Social Security and Medicare benefits, are not protected during a government shut down. While seniors still can get Social Security and Medicare during a government shut down, low-income families may not.
Some matters are simply annoyances. Imagine showing up to the State of Liberty or Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park, only to be turned away due to National Park closures. It could put a serious damper on that vacation you’ve planned for months.
Office of Management and Budget’s Statement
The Office of Management and Budget released its own findings after the 2013 government shut down. It found that employees of the Government were furloughed for a total of 6.6 million days. It also found that the lost productivity of the Federal workers added up to $2.0 billion. In addition, the Federal government was faced with additional costs because IRS enforcement was stopped. The government had to pay additional interest on payments owed due to late payments incurred during the shut down.
The economy was also addressed in this statement. It is estimated that the shut down prevented 120,000 jobs from being created in the first half of October 2013. Trade was negatively impacted due to a delay on import and export licenses. Permitting and environmental reviews were halted, causing a postponement of transportation and energy projects. Federal loans for individuals and businesses in rural communities were stopped. Banks could not verify government income and Social Security numbers, so private-sector loans were also negatively impacted.
The shut down could also keep people from wanting to work for the Federal government. Recently, government workers had their pay frozen for three years, along with a reduction in training and support. Add in a very public shut down which sends workers home without pay, and it is possible that potential employees would be turned off to working in the Federal sector.
Although the government continues to function to protect the security of the nation during a government shut down, there is still a cost. The government shut down costs the Federal government monetarily. It can affect those who rely on services provided by the government. It can have negative effects on the economy of the United States. And it can keep people from wanting to work for the government.