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Who gets laid off during government shutdowns? Am I at risk of getting furloughed?

Congress has less than two days to find a funding bill compromise or risk seeing hundreds of thousands of federal workers going without a paycheck.

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Who gets laid off during government shutdowns? Am I at risk of getting furloughed?
Kevin Dietsch AFP

For the second day in a row, Senate Republicans blocked attempts by Democrats to pass a raft of government funding bills and raise the national debt ceiling. The latter remains a sticking point for GOP members but failure to find a compromise before the end of September could result in a government shutdown.

There is still hope that a resolution can be found and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be forced to find an alternative to the House legislation that is being blocked in the Senate. However a shutdown is now looking increasingly likely and many federal workers are at risk of going with paychecks unless the impasse is resolved.

Which federal workers are exempt from government shutdowns?

A shutdown is essentially the result of the federal government no longer being able to pay for the full extent of agencies and programmes that are usually in place. Without enough funding to cover the vast expenditure some agencies, and therefore some workers’ jobs, are temporarily cut.

However certain essential services will have their funding maintained throughout the potential shutdown to ensure that workers can continue to carry out their jobs. During a pandemic the continued of availability of services like healthcare are particularly important.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) says that the following services will remain functioning throughout a shutdown.

  • Border protection
  • In-hospital medical care
  • Air traffic control
  • Law enforcement
  • Power grid maintenance

Who decides which jobs are affected by a shutdown?

Congress has to pass 12 different appropriation bills to provide the funding needed to ensure the government keeps running, but has passed none ahead of the 30 September deadline. There is a chance that only some of these bills are passed, which would dictate which areas of the federal government are able to keep functioning fully.

Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the CRFB, explains: "Every shutdown is different — there is a lot of discretion in the agencies about what they can continue to do.”

He adds: "Everything that's not essential has to stop, but there are different definitions of essential work."

Federally-ran sites like museums and national parks will close and a skeleton workforce for just 40% will remain in work to ensure their upkeep, according to William Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Even the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which is of particular importance at the moment, will likely be subject to the shutdown. A shutdown plan released by the CDC revealed that up to 62% of the agency’s staff could be furloughed if a deal cannot be agreed before Friday.