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What services are likely to stop during a government shutdown?

It’s beginning to look a lot like the US government will shut down for lack of funding as hardline House Republicans demand steep budget cuts.

How Washington paralysis will disrupt government services

The United States Congress has until the end of the week to approve new budgets for government operations or extend the current spending. Without legislation passed through both chambers, on President Biden’s desk and signed before the end of 30 September the federal government will shut down.

Hardliner House Republicans want to debate the 12 appropriation bills one-by-one, something that could take weeks, if not months, in order to slash spending on programs. The handful even refuses to allow a stopgap bill to be passed to keep federal employees on the job and programs running while they negotiate.

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 prioritize 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. As well, the Department of Veterans Affairs said that many of the benefits it provides would still be available. This includes healthcare, burials and benefits, “including compensation, pension, education, and housing benefits; and the Board will continue to process appeals.”

However, some delays could be experienced and services provided would stop as non-essential staff are furloughed.

“This is why I’ve been saying that we need a full year appropriation,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “That’s why we’ve been so supportive of the bipartisan budget agreement that was struck several months ago.”

Do we know which services will stop?

Unfortunately, no. 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?

Get a loan or technical assistance for a small business

In the past requests 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. However, those affected by natural disasters would be exempted.

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 that will depend on there being sufficient fees to cover operations.

Attend Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo

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 programs will continue, but with potential 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 and air traffic slowdowns may be inevitable if a shutdown occurs. This is because, while they are required to work, they will be doing so without pay.

During the last, and longest shutdown, absenteeism more than doubled, and began to affect airport operations.

Food inspections

The Food and Drug Administration warn that there will be inspection delays on foodstuffs.

Postal service

In the past the American Postal Service has carried on running, but has warned in the past 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 in September last year, when a shutdown was also 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.