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What happens when the federal government shuts down?

Washington, DC is on the brink of a shutdown after 21 House Republicans helped vote down a measure

If he is unable to strike a quick deal with Democrats, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will preside over the first federal shutdown since December 2018, when operations ceased over a fight to fund former President Donald Trump’s border wall.

That shutdown lasted 35 days — the longest in four decades after Democrats agreed to $1.3 billion in additional border security — far lower than the $5.7 billion requested by the president.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned his colleagues in the lower chamber against shutting the government down earlier this month.

“I’ve seen a few of them over the years. They never have produced a policy change and they’ve always been a loser for Republicans politically,” McConnell said. 

Here’s a look at what members of Congress and federal employees should expect if a stopgap measure isn’t passed by tomorrow at midnight.

Who works and is paid in Congress during a shutdown?

Members of Congress will be paid to work in the event of a shutdown, but they must decide which staff members are essential and approved for paid work.

McCarthy and other lawmakers have said they would forgo their congressional salaries, but White House officials dismissed the move as a stunt.

“Members of Congress have to get paid, constitutionally,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said.

“So, maybe he’ll put it in a sock drawer, I don’t know. But they have to get paid during a shutdown. That’s theater. That is theater.”

“I will tell you, the guy who picks up the trash in my office won’t get a paycheck,” Young added.

“That’s real, and that’s what makes me angry.”

Interns and other employees in congressional buildings will not receive pay or retroactive pay once the shutdown lifts.

All congressional tours must also be led by lawmakers not staff.

Who works and is paid in federal agencies during a shutdown?

Presidential appointees will continue to be paid for their work during a shutdown, while essential and non-essential federal employees, US military service members and White House staff won’t receive pay.

Essential federal employees deemed to be conducting “excepted work” will not be furloughed, according to guidance from the Office of Personnel Management, with agency heads determining which employees are essential.

All other agency employees will be furloughed.

Both “excepted” and furloughed employees will receive back pay after appropriations resume.

President Biden’s senior-most aides are expected to be designated “essential,” in the event of a shutdown, CNN reports, and will continue to assist the 80-year-old commander in chief.

Will Social Security be paid?

Payments from federal benefits programs. including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, will continue to be distributed. 

Will SNAP and WIC be affected?

It’s possible.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food benefits to low-income families and is administered by the Department of Agriculture, has a $6 billion contingency reserve that will be used to provide households with assistance as usual through October.

November SNAP benefits may be interrupted if the shutdown drags on. 

State funds may be used to fund SNAP benefits, but without any federal reimbursement guarantee.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, also administered by the USDA, has a contingency fund that will dry up “just a few days” after a shutdown, according to the White House.

When the contingency fund is exhausted, states will be forced to access unspent WIC money to keep the program running.

Will national parks close?

Most will close.

The parks rely on Congress and appropriations to pay staff salaries and keep them running and accessible to the public. 

Some, such as the National Mall in Washington and Gateway National Park in San Francisco, will remain accessible to the public with reduced services, like access to clean restrooms. 

The governors of Arizona and Utah have vowed to keep Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks open, using state funds. 

Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo in Washington will remain open through at least Oct. 7, in the event of a shutdown, through the use of prior-year funds.

What happens to air traffic controllers and TSA? 

Air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security officers are considered essential workers and must work through a shutdown without pay.

Air traffic controllers in the process of being trained by the Federal Aviation Administration would be furloughed.

Past federal government shutdowns, however, have led to “significant delays and longer wait times for travelers,” the White House warns.

Will the Post Office be affected?

US Postal Service operations will not be interrupted in the event of a shutdown and all Post Offices will remain open.

The Postal Service is “generally funded through the sale of our products and services, and not by tax dollars,” the USPS said in a statement

“The USPS is not an appropriated federal agency, and Mail Handlers will still receive paychecks and will still report to work,” the National Postal Mail Handlers Union also told members earlier this month.