What Happens in a Government Shutdown?


Quick Answer

In a government shutdown, important functions of the federal government continue running while the nonessential functions close down. Typically, all government duties that ensure safety, security and protection of the public continue running as usual. Many civil workers must go home, but the military, Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury, and government programs like Medicare and Social Security continue functioning.

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Full Answer

A government shutdown may occur when the U.S. Congress fails to agree on a new budget or if there are deep political disagreements. The duration of a shutdown depends on how long Congress takes to resolve the cause of the shutdown. For example, a U.S. government shutdown occurred in October of 2013 and lasted for 16 days. Back in the 1980s, there were regular shutdowns that lasted for 2-3 days.

The functions of the federal government are separated into two types: essential and nonessential. Essential functions are funded through mandatory funding so they remain active throughout a shutdown. All civil workers who work in nonessential functions go on a forced leave. During this period, they are not paid, which is different from the past when civil workers were paid during shutdowns. The most affected city during a shutdown is Washington, D.C.

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