US President Donald Trump statement on govt shutdown 22122018
US President Donald Trump makes a statement on the possible government shutdown before signing criminal just reform legislation in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, in Washington. Image Credit: AP

Washington, DC: The US Congress passed laws to fund about 75 per cent of government agencies before the fiscal year ended in September, but they gave themselves until December 21 to approve budgets for the rest. The hangup involves money that Trump demanded for a border wall.

The agencies affected include the departments of Homeland Security, State, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice and Transportation, as well as Nasa, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

About 800,000 federal workers at those agencies won’t be paid; some 420,000 of those will be expected to work without pay.

181222 us shutdown
A National Park Service worker locks the bathrooms at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington yesterday. Bathrooms won’t be maintained during the shutdown Image Credit: AFP

What continues to function?

The post office will continue delivering mail (including those last-minute Christmas packages), Social Security checks will still be delivered, Medicare will still function and Transportation Security Administration agents will still inspect you at airport security (though they will probably be working without pay, which may not lighten their holiday moods.)

Otherwise, with most government offices already shut through Christmas, the average American may not notice much impact — at least for a while.

What closes?

Much of the national park system will close. Some popular parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon will probably remain accessible, but visitor centres and campsites will be closed, and bathrooms aren’t likely to be maintained during the shutdown.

Some sites where access is easily controlled, including the Statue of Liberty, may be closed completely. The Smithsonian museums in Washington may have funds to stay open for a while, depending on how long a shutdown lasts. The National Zoo in Washington will close, but the animals will still be fed and cared for.

Closures could change over time if the shutdown persists, so if you’re planning a visit, check ahead.

The Federal Housing Administration and the Small Business Administration won’t be able to process new home or small business loans. The FHA shutdown will affect some people buying houses.

Depending on how long a shutdown goes, the State Department may stop issuing or renewing passports and visas.

The IRS will furlough most of its employees and stop issuing tax refunds. For now, that would only affect a small number of people, since few taxpayers file returns seeking refunds in December. But if a shutdown persists, the impact would grow.

What happens with government workers?

More than 800,000 federal workers will either be home without pay or working without pay for however long the government is closed, according to data compiled by Senate Democrats.

Those whose jobs are deemed “essential” — mostly public safety functions — will have to report to work without pay. That includes:

More than 41,000 federal law enforcement and prison employees, who work for the Justice Department will remain on duty.

In the Transportation Department, thousands of air traffic controllers will keep planes moving during the busy holiday season.

Homeland Security Department employees are hit the hardest, nearly 90 per cent of them are considered essential, including more than 54,000 border control agents and 53,000 TSA agents.

Another 380,000 federal employees will be furloughed.

Will workers get back pay when it’s over?

After previous shutdowns, Congress has passed measures giving back pay to furloughed employees and essential employees who worked during the shutdown. That isn’t guaranteed this time, though.

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said federal employees knew when they took their jobs that a government shutdown was possible and that they’ll likely not be paid.

“It’s actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position and it’s not lost on me, in terms of the potential hardship, but at the same time, they know that they would be required to work,” he said Thursday.

Democrats note that many workers live from pay cheque to pay cheque, so even if Congress provides back pay, some will suffer significant hardship. They have already begun lambasting Republicans over how the shutdown will affect workers.

In a tweet, Democrat Senator Tim Kaine said, “.@realDonaldTrump has no concept of the hard work our federal employees do every day to keep the country running. Forcing 800,000 of them to spend the holidays unsure about their next paycheck is cruel.”

How long might this last?

Hard to know. Some shutdown standoffs in recent years have gotten settled in a day or two. In 1996, however, a shutdown lasted 21 days. A 2013 shutdown took 16 days to resolve.

If Congress deadlocks this time, lawmakers may quit for the year and wait for the new Congress, with Democrats in the majority in the House, to take the matter up after they reconvene on January 3.

Trump tweeted Friday morning that “there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time” if he doesn’t get his way.