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What services are likely to stop during a government shutdown?

As was the case three months ago the government is on the verge of running out of money and has just two days to pass the federal spending bills.

As was the case just three months ago the government is on the verge of running out of money and has two days to pass the federal spending bills.

Lawmakers have until midnight on Friday, 3 December to agree on new stopgap funding measures to prevent the government going into a shutdown.

Each year Congress is required to pass a raft of 12 spending bills to provide the federal government with the funds required to maintain itself for the year, but back in September (when the annual funds are replenished) a permanent solution could not be found.

At that time lawmakers were able to agree a short-term package to prevent a shutdown, but we are now just two days from the new deadline and Congress is again looking for a last-minute solution. Here’s what could happen if an agreement cannot be found…

Essential services will continue to be funded

When the government goes into a shutdown it will, as happened in 2013 and 2018, begin to prioritise the remaining funds for the most urgently needed services. Air traffic control, in-hospital medical care, border protection, law enforcement and power grid maintenance are considered essential services and will be maintained.

Likewise, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are among the mandatory spending programs that would continue to operate, albeit with greater possibility of delays.

"The Administration will work with both sides on Capitol Hill to fund the government and keep its vital services and functions operating," the Social Security Administration confirmed in a statement.

"Our contingency planning for the potential funding lapse is to continue services associated with the White House’s statement that Social Security benefits will continue to be paid."

Do we know which services will stop?

Unfortunately not. Although we have an idea based on previous shutdowns, each shutdown contingency plan is the result of each federal administration's criteria so they could chose to focus on different priorities this time.

"It’s never clear until a shutdown which services will pass the absolutely necessary test," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan think tank Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“But one thing is for sure, a lot of people will go home and won't be doing their jobs and that slows down the process of just about everything,” she added.

What might I not be able to do?

Buy a house

People looking to sell or buy new homes will most-likely be kept on standby until further notice with the Federal Housing Administration temporarily very short on staff. FHA inquiries regarding changes in mortgage and refinancing will also be paused for the duration of the shutdown.

Get a loan or technical assistance for a small business

In the past request for loans and other forms of financial aid from the federal government have been delayed for the duration of previous shutdowns and that is likely to happen again.

Attend national parks

Although some parks remained open during the last shutdown, visitor services and park maintenance stopped running and the parks suffered as a result. Rubbish was not collected and areas of the parks were damaged, meaning that they may well choose to close completely if the government goes into shutdown again.

Passport renewal

Things as simple and necessary as renewing your passport could be a difficult task for those who need to do so during the shutdown. The State Department service that issues passports is not fully funded by Congress, meaning they may be able to continue working but the lack of employees could delay your appointment significantly.

Attend Smithsonian museums

The White House closed Smithsonian Institution museums during the last two shutdowns, as well as National Zoo in Washington.

Public services closures could have significant impact

Social Security and Medicare

Payments for both forms of relief programmes will continue, but with potentially long delays due to the lack of workers in the office to process claims and act as customer support in the case of issues. It is likely that benefit verification and card issuance services will stop.


Although air traffic controllers and the Transportation Security Administration will continue to work, delays at airport slowdowns are inevitable if a shutdown occurs.

Food inspections

The Food and Drug Administration warn that there will be inspection delays on foodstuffs entering the country, which could exacerbate the current supply chain issues.

Postal service

In the past the American Postal Service has carried on running, but warned that "delivery standards would slow for some patrons."

"Mail traveling the greatest distances will be most affected, with a day or two of transit time added for some first-class mail and periodicals," the agency said back in September, when a shutdown was last threatened.

Health and Human Service

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) might not be able to process grant applications or admit new patients without the usual staffing numbers.


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