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Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary Free Online Legal Dictionary 2nd Ed.

What is What Is A Government Shutdown & Who Does It Affect?

In short: A government shutdown is when nonessential government agencies can’t run due to a “lack of funding.” Or, more appropriately, a lack of agreed-upon funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

But to understand what a government shut down actually is, we have to back this up a bit to understand when and how the government decides on funding. For the US government, the fiscal year begins October 1st of every year. 

For example, October 1st, 2020 will mark the fiscal year for 2021, which will run through September 30, 2021. On October 1st, 2021, the fiscal year for 2022 will start, and so on.

So, before October 1st of any given year, the budgets need to be set and agreed upon for all government agencies and programs. If they’re not agreed upon by congress or not signed by the president by this date, the government will shut down until everything is agreed upon and signed.

And, again, a government shutdown doesn’t necessarily mean everything government comes to a screeching halt, and there’s total anarchy. Just simply that all non-essential government functions, agencies, and programs stop running.

What Happens When The Government Shuts Down?

First, let’s cover what doesn’t change. 

  • Anything involving public safety: this includes police departments, fire stations, hospitals, ambulances, utilities, air traffic control, armed forces, border protection, and anything else that falls into the bucket of “public safety.” 
  • Anything not subject to annual appropriations: these are things like Medicaid, Medicare, and social security benefits. Since they’re not subject to appropriations (the government deciding on their budget), they’re not impacted. 
  • Anything with permanent user fees: these are things like immigration services, visa, passports, and the like. Since their services are paid for through users, it’s not impacted by the government’s budget. 

Any agency that isn’t included above has a shutdown plan. Each develops its own shutdown plan, following guidance released in previous shutdowns and coordinated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).


Who Is Impacted By Government Shutdowns?

If the government shuts down, here are the agencies that would be impacted. As well as their plan for how to handle such an event and the last time their shutdown plan was updated:

Effects Of Government Shutdowns

When government shutdowns are short-term, most agencies have the extra funds to keep employees on staff. At the very least, the majority of them.

Those they can’t afford to keep get furloughed short-term. Which, of course, causes financial issues for those who face furlough. 

In more long term situations, we’ve seen airport shutdowns, social security benefits not being paid, immigration for refugees come to a screeching halt, and even court proceedings being pushed back since they can’t take place. 

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