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What happens during a government shutdown?

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Sorry Smokey, no friendly campers will be visiting you soon. Since noon Saturday, the United States government has officially been shut down. Shutdowns are caused when Congress fails to sign a bill to fund the government and doesn’t extend the previous bill, thus forcing the government to cease functioning. Shutdowns have happened in the past 30 years, most recently in 2013. However, most Americans don’t know what actually happens during a shutdown. While some government functions are still fully operating, many government employees are working without pay, and others aren’t doing anything at all.

The first question about any shutdown is how it will affect the military and our national security. In short, it does, but not by a great deal. Very few new actions can be taken and obviously projects in these sectors are paused for lack of funding, but our planes keep flying and our ships keep sailing. That’s because most military and national security personnel are considered “essential personnel,” meaning they get to keep working and receive pay as usual.

However, other government employees aren’t so lucky. Those with jobs deemed vital, but not essential, must show up to work and receive no pay. Others still are furloughed, meaning they don’t get any work or pay. Some government workers who don’t work during the shutdown are often compensated later for work they missed or weren’t initially paid for.

No government shutdown has lasted longer than a couple weeks, but this one could be different. Democrats have tried to make numerous compromises with Republicans, but to no avail. The Republican house caucus and the immigration hardliners in the White House are adamant about rejecting any bill that has a clean fix for the Dreamers, and Democrats won’t vote for government funding without help for the Dreamers. While these opposing sides collide, government employees must hold on tight, and hope for a speedy solution.


Update: The government reopened Monday, Jan. 22.


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