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Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Government Shutdowns

VO: RB WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher

Script written by Savannah Sher

Government shutdowns are more common than you might think. From their origins, to their effects and their ultimate costs, these are the facts you need to know. WatchMojo counts down ten things you need to know about government shutdowns.

Special thanks to our user S. T. Striker for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/top+ten+government+shutdowns.


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Script written by Savannah Sher

Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Government Shutdowns

Government shutdowns are more common than you might think. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Government Shutdowns.

For this list, we’re learning more about what happens when the American government shuts down.

#10: Shutdowns Happen When There’s No Approved Budget Funding

The first question most people have about a government shutdown is: how did this even happen in the first place? Well, the way the American government is set up, a shutdown can happen when Congress does not pass, or the President doesn’t sign, legislation that provides funding togovernmental agencies – otherwise known as an appropriation bill. Due to a piece of legislation called the Antideficiency Act, this lack of an approved budget results in the shutdown of the affected agencies, which is basically most of the government.

#9: This Phenomenon Is Actually Pretty Recent

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 made government shutdowns possible in the absence of formally passed funding bills. It wasn’t until 1980, however, that things really changed. From then until the January 2018 shutdown, the government closed up shop 19 times – although many of those shutdowns took place over the weekend, resulting in relatively minimal effects on the average American. However, during that time there were four significant shutdowns: two during the Clinton presidency, in 1995 and 1996; one in 2013 under President Obama, and a 2018 shutdown under President Trump that began at midnight Saturday January 20th and ended Monday evening.

#8: They Could Make You Sick

Okay, maybe not directly, but your health could definitely be affected. How? Well, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s flu monitoring program would have been deeply impacted had the January 2018 shutdown continued, since many employees would no longer have been working. The Department of Health and Human Services has approximately 80 thousand employees, and half of them were also off work during the brief shutdown. That’s a massive cut in resources at a critical time. So if it happens again, and lasts longer, it could have seriously effects throughout society. So, maybe stock up on vitamins just in case?

#7: You Don’t Have to Worry About the Astronauts

During the 2013 shutdown, many government agencies ceased operations pretty much across the board – including NASA. There were some exceptions however, and we can assume that this would be the case during any future shutdown. The two American astronauts who were in space during the shutdown continued their work; and while the vast majority of NASA employees were on furlough, small support teams for the active astronauts continued to come into the office. After all, it’s not like they can just be left hanging there until things return to normal!

#6: You Still Have to Do Your Taxes

The 2013 government shutdown took place in October, leaving many Americans wondering whether they still had to do their taxes since October 15th was the deadline for those granted an extension on the regular April 15th due date. But in 2013, and during any future shutdown, you still have todo your civic duty and file your taxes by whatever deadline you have. IRS employees are part of the category of federal workers who do not work during a shutdown, so filing taxes or getting a refund (or answers to your pressing filing questions) might be a huge hassle. But you still gotta do it.

#5: Your Travel Could Be Affected

Luckily, any major travel plans you may have are probably safe even during a government shutdown, because transportation agencies like the TSA, Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will still be functioning as normal, since they’re considered essential services. But let’s say you’re waiting for a new passport. You’re probably SOL on that. Or let’s say you’re planning to take in some local sites like a national park, zoo or museum; you should check to see if they’ll be open. Because they don’t fall under the essential services category, they’d be closed for the duration of any shutdown. That is, unless – for political reasons – the government tries to find a way to keep them open with budgeting or legislative trickery.

#4: Military Personnel May Not Be Paid Right Away

The Office of Management and Budget decides who exactly continues to work during a government shutdown, but one thing that remains consistent is that anyone deemed “Emergency personnel,” like federal police officers, healthcare workers in federal facilities, and air traffic controllers will all continue on as normal (or, close enough). This is also the case for active-duty military members. However, had the 2018 shutdown lasted longer than just a couple of days and extended into February, members of the military wouldn’t have been paid for their work. And that ain’t good.

#3: Federal Workers Do Eventually Get Paid

Even though the majority of them will not be working during a federal government shutdown, workers receive pay for the days they miss. This makes sense, considering they have no say in whether they work or not! The problem is, they likely won’t end up getting paid on their normal payment schedule, which could mean financial troubles for many. Once things get back to normal, federal employees should quickly receive back pay for the salary they missed out on, but it’s not guaranteed. Individual agencies each have their own measures to deal with a shutdown.

#2: No One Knows How Long a Shutdown Could Last

Of all the government shutdowns in U.S. history, most haven’t lasted that long, all things considered. The 1995 and 1996 shutdowns ended up totaling 27 days, and the 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days. But there aren’t really any measures in place to put a limit on the length of a shutdown. That means uncertainty for everyone involved, because it’s up to Congress and the President to sort things out and ensure that everything goes back to normal in a timely fashion. Considering how much money they cost, no one wants them to last long; but severe dysfunction could make it happen.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Mail Delivery Continues During a Shutdown
- The 2018 Shutdown Was Different: One Party Controlled Both Congress and the White House
- You Probably Won’t Be Able to Get a Gun Permit During a Shutdown

#1: They Can Get Really Expensive

It’s hard to measure exactly how much money was lost during previous government shutdowns, but at least one agency estimated that the government lost $24 billion in economic activity in 2013. Just the salaries of employees who weren’t actually working for those 16 days cost a whopping $2 billion. The 1995/1996 shutdowns similarly cost $1.4 billion in lost productivity. Luckily, such huge losses were avoided in 2018, since the government was only closed for one official workday. However, it’s important to remember for the future just how quickly the costs add up.

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