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How would a government shutdown affect the US pandemic response and economic recovery?

The American Federation of Government Employees warns that "political gamesmanship" could have serious consequences as the country looks to recover from covid-19.

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How would a government shutdown affect the US pandemic response and economic recovery?
ELIZABETH FRANTZ REUTERS

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans once again blocked the Democrats’ attempts to pass a short-term spending bill to prevent a government shutdown later this week.

Congress is currently split along partisan lines with the GOP unwilling to support a raising of the debt ceiling, something that the Democrats have tied to their spending proposals. The threat of a shutdown is already having a negative impact on the financial markets and could prove a very costly disruption to the nation’s pandemic recovery.

The federal government is, by far, the largest employer in the United States and in 2019 employed more than 9 million people, comprising roughly 6% of the national workforce. Those working in certain agencies will have their employment protected but millions could be placed on furlough in the coming days.

The impact of even a temporary shutdown could be catastrophic to the country’s economic recovery. Millions could be forced to go without a paycheck; federal agencies tasked with overseeing important tasks could lose funding; and a shutdown would only add to the economic uncertainty brought about by the pandemic.

Speaking to AS USA a spokesperson for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the country's largest union of federal workers, outlined what a government shutdown could mean…

How might this shutdown compare to the previous one?

“The last time this happened [in 2018-2019], about 800,000 federal employees were unpaid, and that was a partial government shutdown that affected about one-fourth of the federal government.”

“Currently none of the [twelve] appropriations bills for the fiscal year starting 1 October have been approved by Congress, so this shutdown could end up affecting many more employees depending on what happens in the next few days.”

How many workers could lose a paycheck in the event of a government shutdown?

“We don’t know how many employees would be in danger of not receiving a paycheck during the shutdown because it depends on whether Congress ends up approving budgets to fund some agencies past the 30 September deadline.”

Could a shutdown affect the nation’s coronavirus response?

“It’s certainly irresponsible to shut down the government when so many different agencies are involved in different aspects of the pandemic response effort. Even any minor impact on those efforts for the sake of political gamesmanship is unacceptable.”

Would a shutdown affect Social Security or Veterans Affairs payments?

"While existing benefits paid to retirees and veterans should be able to continue uninterrupted, it’s likely that no one would be able to file for new Social Security or Veterans Affairs benefits, or be able to contact claims representatives to address any issues with their payments during the shutdown."