How the looming government shutdown could affect you

From travel delays to limited food inspections, a shutdown would touch millions of Americans.

Stoplights in front of the U.S. Capitol dome near a road sign that reads: 395 South Richmond, downtown
Stoplights near the U.S. Capitol, where Congress will return Tuesday to deal with some spending bills before funding could run out, triggering a partial U.S. government shutdown. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) (Jonathan Ernst / reuters)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The power struggle between some House Republicans and Speaker Kevin McCarthy over a federal spending bill has put the government on the edge of a shutdown after a last-ditch effort fell short.

A short-term funding bill put forth by McCarthy that would have kept the government open through Oct. 31 failed in the House on Friday, with 21 Republicans and all Democrats voting against it. The plan included steep cuts to government programs and new border security provisions.

Government funding is currently set to expire at 12:01 a.m. ET Sunday morning and there’s no clear path to a funding bill. The group of Republicans have not laid out concrete demands, at various times proposing cuts to spending on government programs and Ukraine aid in addition to returning to Trump-era border policies. A bill including all of those measures would not pass the Democratic-majority Senate or be signed by President Biden.

McCarthy rejected a bipartisan deal agreed to by the Senate earlier this week that would have provided funding for both disaster relief and Ukraine. He could theoretically put the Senate plan up to a vote in the House and pass it with the help of Democrats, but it would almost certainly cause a revolt within his party and put his already tenuous speakership in jeopardy.

Here’s what to expect if a funding deal can’t be reached by the deadline.

Paychecks and health care

If the government shuts down, up to 4 million federal workers would not get paid, with those designated as essential continuing to work, while others would be furloughed. The more than one million members of the military on active duty would be among those working without pay, while veterans benefits would continue.

While government employees would receive back pay once the shutdown concludes, federal contractors would not. The potential furloughs present logistical problems for employees seeking to do temporary work to make ends meet, because those jobs require managerial approval, which will be difficult to obtain if managers are also furloughed.

Social security payments, however, would still be sent out. Additionally, those who receive medical care via government programs like Medicare, Medicaid or veterans’ hospitals would retain that care as the funding for those comes through other legislation not tied to the current negotiations.

Members of Congress also would continue to get paid during a shutdown because their salaries are funded by a permanent appropriations account, per the Congressional Research Service.


The air traffic control tower at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
The air traffic control tower at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. (Jim Vondruska/Reuters) (Jim Vondruska / reuters)

While air traffic controllers and TSA agents are required to report to work without pay in the event of a shutdown, it’s likely that you would still face delays while traveling. The last extended shutdown, in late 2018 to 2019, saw many TSA workers using their sick days, slowing the screening process. That five-week shutdown ended only after 10 air traffic controllers called in sick, affecting hundreds of flights in the northeast and forcing then-President Donald Trump to agree to a deal.

For those traveling to national parks, it’s unclear whether they will remain open. During the 2018-19 shutdown, the parks did remain open, but the lack of staffing resulted in “irreparable” damage to them. During a 2013 shutdown, the parks were closed. With a busy few weeks coming up for Maine’s Acadia National Park, locals are concerned that the shutdown could have a major impact on their economy. Utah has already announced plans to keep its national parks, including Zion and Arches, open during the shutdown, using state funds that they hope will be reimbursed. Its unclear whether the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo in Washington, D.C., would remain open.

If you’re traveling abroad, the State Department has already announced that embassies and consulates will remain open for national security purposes and can assist Americans during a shutdown.

Government services

The federal government has already said a shutdown would pause the release of usual economic data like inflation and unemployment rates. The 2019 shutdown also caused a reduction in food inspections, something the White House has warned about this time as well, in addition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) being limited in its ability to conduct workplace inspections. The U.S. Postal Service would continue unaffected.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday that the shutdown would affect the millions of Americans on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, immediately. The program assists low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children under age 5. Vilsack suggested that some states may be able to keep the program running slightly longer with their own funds.