If Congress fails to pass a continuing resolution by Monday, the federal government will come to a standstill, shuttering “non-essential” services and operations that are deemed unnecessary for the safety of human life and national security. So while air traffic controllers will keep the planes in the sky, seniors will receive their Medicare and Social Security checks and the unemployed will continue to see benefits, other services will begin to dry up the longer the shutdown continues. Services that are not subject to yearly appropriations — so-called mandatory spending — will continue functioning and self-funding agencies like the Postal Services could still deliver mail.
But close to a million federal workers performing tasks that are deemed non-essential could be furloughed, leading to delays and shutdowns in the following services:
FINANCIAL SERVICES. The Small Business Administration will stop making loans, federal home loan guarantees will likely go on hold, and students applying for financial aid could also see delays and backlogs in applications.
ARMED FORCES. U.S. troops serving at home and abroad could stop receiving paychecks if the shutdown continues for an extended period and changes of station would also be delayed and facility and weapons maintenance would be suspended. Families back home would also be impacted.
HEALTH CARE. The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients and delay or stop clinical trials. Medicare and the Veterans administration will continue paying out benefits, but new filers could face delays and doctors and hospitals may also have to wait for reimbursements.
PUBLIC SAFETY. The Environmental Protection Agency would stop reviewing environmental impact statements and food inspectors would stop conducting workplace inspections unless there is an imminent danger. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms could stop processing applications for permits.
SECURITY AND TRAVEL. The Department of Homeland Security would suspend the E-Verify program, which helps businesses determine the eligibility of employees, creating hiring delays. The State Department will also likely halt new passport and visa applications.
DISASTER RELIEF. In preparation for a potential shutdown, the Utah National Guard is holding off on sending a team to help rebuild areas in Colorado devastated by massive floods last week. More National Guard engineers are desperately needed to repair major roads and bridges in Colorado. Roughly 240 Colorado National Guardsmen currently working on flood missions are also in danger of losing funding.
NUTRITION FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN. Though food stamps will still be available in the event of a shutdown, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, a service meant to help new and expecting mothers and their young children get nutritious foods, will not. If a shutdown lasts for more than a few days, the roughly 9 million Americans who rely on WIC could see their assistance dry up, leaving them food-insecure.
All this will come at a price. The last two shutdowns during the Clinton era — one lasted six days in 1995 and another stretched 21 days at the end of 1995 and beginning of 1996 — cost the country 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and more than $2 billion (in today’s dollars) in unnecessary expenses — as government employees abandoned their jobs to prepare for the shutdown. Economists estimate that were a short-term shutdown to occur next month, it “would do significant economic damage, reducing real GDP by 1.4 percentage points.” A two-month shutdown could “precipitate another recession.”
This post has been updated to reflect the latest developments in the shutdown fight.