The Consequences of Government Shutdowns

By Amanda Cardini, Editor-in-Chief

2019 kicked off to a rough start with the U.S. government shutting down for the longest time in history, spanning a total of 35 days from December through January. As of this writing, the government has reopened, but on a temporary deal, which will expire on February 15. At that time representatives will vote on a new deal; if they are unable to reach an agreement, the government will shut down again once more.

This shutdown centered entirely around the infamous wall, a major campaign point for Donald Trump, and a point of contention between the two parties ever since he took office. In December, congress voted on a budget that did not pass due to democrats’ opposition to the wall. The result was a standoff across the aisle that still hasn’t come to a consensus; the temporary deal did not include funding for the wall, though the new deal being voted on February 15 presumably will readdress the issue.

Whether or not the wall is something that should be implemented, a shutdown lasting over a month is troublesome. Government shutdowns have become more common in recent years, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have significant impacts. One of the most talked about impacts was the lack of pay for federal workers and employees, (which totaled to over 800,000 people) who subsequently sued the government. Unlike other government workers, many contractors will not receive back pay for the days worked during the shutdown. Meanwhile many of those who will receive back pay live paycheck to paycheck and endured a tough few weeks. The shutdown persisted with no end in sight, as a compromise appeared more and more unlikely. These employees were faced with the tough reality of working without pay with no telling when they would be able to pay their bills and get back on their feet.

Long lines at Laguardia Airport during the shutdown. Courtesy of Debbie Quintana

Beyond the effects to employees are the effects to the general public: the FDA stopped many operations that were not considered the “bare minimum” to keep the American public safe. TSA agents also went without pay, causing many employees to call out sick, increasing airport security concerns, and delaying processing times at airports. And those applying for U.S. citizenship will experience delays as the backlog of cases grew throughout the shutdown; only cases of detained immigrants moved forward while the parties attempted to reach an agreement.  

Other impacts include:

  • Some states experienced delays in infrastructure contracts.
  • Many important NASA projects were put on hold due to the government funding and grants that keep the projects going.
  • Farmers did not receive an annual report from the Department of Agriculture, advising them on the best crops to plant for the upcoming season. They also experienced delays in funding. Reminder: this group has already been under pressure as a result of the trade war.
  • Firefighter training was postponed for the U.S. Forest Service.
  • Operations within federal courts were limited.

These are among many other consequences that occurred as a result of the 35 day standoff.

Although the departments and agencies affected are now up and running, it will take time to get back on track, due to the need to retrain employees or newly fill positions lost during the shutdown. A period of over a month with either decreased or fully stopped operations is no easy feat to come back from, especially for large organizations. And while many employees have now received back pay, as noted, some groups will not receive back pay at all. The effects of the shutdown are still looming, and the worst part? Another one may be just around the corner.

Courtesy of USA Today

At the end of this week, congress will reconvene to revisit the issue of funding for the wall. If President Trump’s State of the Union address last week is any indication, it seems that he is not backing down. Democrats also appear to be holding firmly to their resistance. It seems unlikely that an agreement will be reached, especially given that the democrats have already conceded to increased spending for border security without funding for the wall, but this has so far not been enough for republicans. One would hope that both sides will this time enter negotiations sensitive to the effects of the last shutdown, but it’s hard to imagine what bargaining chips will bring either side to a point of concession.

The unfortunate part about the entire issue is that both sides’ stubbornness does nothing to help them, or to punish the other side. It’s the American people that suffer when the government reaches an impasse. Whether you agree with the wall or not, the impacts of another shutdown could be devastating to many. 

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