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What Happens In A Government Shutdown? Here’s What You Need To Know


The holidays are officially upon us, and as December looms, there are many things we can look forward to. Egg nog, for one. Hot chocolate, time with loved ones, brisk late-night walks in the snow. And, maybe, a government shutdown in December. What? How? Why? What about the children? you may be thinking. Well here's what a government shutdown could mean for you.

The long and short of it is this: Congress has until Dec. 8 to pass a spending bill, according to The Washington Post, or else the government will run out of money and shut down. The Senate spending bill requires 60 votes to pass, which means Republicans will need 8 Democrats to vote along with them on spending, but the next few weeks will require serious bipartisan compromise to avoid a shutdown. To boot, Republicans have signaled that they want to pass tax reform before addressing anything else, and since tax reform will likely be a difficult sell, it might mean that the spending bill doesn't meet its deadline.

In other words, a shutdown isn't out of the realm of possibility. In fact, according to what Steve Bell, a former GOP budget aide with the Bipartisan Policy Institute told The Washington Post, “the odds are better than 50 percent,” of a shutdown. Yeesh.

So, with a shutdown looming, what does that mean for people like you and me?

Well, it depends. According to ABC News, the last time the government shut down, for 16 days in Oct. 2013, approximately 800,000 federal employees were furloughed without pay. Nonessential services, including national parks, Smithsonian museums, and NASA, were shut down. Most disturbingly, Veterans Affairs benefits were disrupted, and millions of veterans and their families almost lost crucial financial assistance.

And while every shutdown is different, USA Today predicted some similar outcomes the last time a shutdown loomed — in April — which we can use to determine what could happen in mere weeks.

The nitty-gritty: all non-essential employees and services will likely be furloughed and shut down, which means people can say goodbye to the national parks and taxpayer-funded museums (at least for the time being). Citizens should also expect administrative slow-downs across federal agencies.

But many services will remain running — for example, the U.S. Postal Service, which does not receive taxpayer funding, will continue to operate.

Those who receive Social Security benefits or are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp program will continue to receive their benefits. Both programs are mandatory and will continue to operate outside of a shutdown.

As for unemployment benefits, people were able to collect during the 2013 shutdown, so it's likely that you'll be able to collect if a shutdown occurs again. In fact, federal employees who were furloughed in 2013 qualified for unemployment benefits, allowing them some leeway while their jobs were suspended.

Some of the likely outcomes are pretty grim, though.

While travel won't stop, it could be disrupted by furloughs. Nonessential employees being sent home could spell longer waits at the airport, and right around the holidays, no less. And both USA Today and the New Statesman note that the State Department's passport department is partially funded by fees, so it's not completely dependent on federal money — but if you need a passport, act soon. We mean it: during a 1996 government shutdown, the State Department stopped processing applications, affecting hundreds of thousands of applicants.

Most worrying: federal loan programs could be in danger. The 2013 shutdown caused mortgage roadblocks. Grants and research funding could stall, per The Daily Californian. Federally funded student loans like the Pell Grant would, by and large, be safe at first, though the longer the shutdown lasts, the bigger the chance that even student loan disbursement could be interrupted.

And, perhaps, worst of all? You'll still owe your taxes by April 15, but the IRS could delay your tax return.

Why is this happening?

As recently as April, President Donald Trump threatened a government shutdown if he didn't get the money for his border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He backed off — but The Washington Post says that Trump's desire for wall funding in the impending spending bill could be one of five scenarios that could lead to a shutdown.

While a spending bill needs to be passed by Dec. 8 to avoid a shutdown, Republicans have signaled that they are going to try to pass President Donald Trump's sweeping tax reform bill beforehand. Which means that they need the Senate to pass the controversial plan which is already in danger of failing, and then combine the House and Senate versions of the bill. After that, Congress needs to come up with a spending bill that meets Democrats' (and some Republicans') demands in relation to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era program which allowed undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. while children to work, study, and live in the United States. When Trump sunsetted DACA this summer, Democrats said they would only pass a spending bill if it included legislation that makes DACA a law.

As recently as Sept. 14, it seemed that Trump and Democrats were close to a compromise on DACA, but today, Nov. 28, Trump tweeted that he wouldn't compromise with Democrats: "I don't see a deal!"

And with the additional pressure of a looming vote on tax reform — which would likely raise taxes on low- and middle-income Americans, might repeal the ACA's individual mandate and kick millions of people off of health care, and could even add to the national deficit to the tune of $1.7 trillion — things are looking grim for the possibility of passing a spending bill on time.

The last time the government shut down in 2013, it cost $24 billion in lost revenue for the economy. Congress has ten days to decide whether or not they'll allow this to happen again. In the meantime, don't hold your breath.