Here's What Actually Shuts Down During A Government Shutdown

Spoiler alert: nothing good.
Posted at 1:15 PM, Feb 06, 2018

I know you've heard of a government shutdown. They're not new. There have been 18 in U.S. history; they happen under Republican and Democratic presidents. But what are they really? 

First, we need to do a quick civics lesson. (Sorry.) In 1974, legislation set a deadline of Oct. 1 to fund the government. A shutdown or "spending gap" happens when lawmakers can't agree on funding before that deadline. Here are just some of the things that feel the immediate impact when the government closes up shop.

Immediately, more than 800,000 government employees are sent on a shutdown furlough. Think of it like a vacation, but it's not fun. And you're not getting paid. And you're not sure when Congress will get its act together so that you do get paid.

Not every employee gets sent home, though. "Essential staff" like police officers, most of the FBI, border patrol officers and federal emergency workers all get to keep coming to work.

Do you like to camp outside in one of our beautiful national parks? Too bad! They shut down, too. If you're there when the shutdown takes effect, pack up, baby! You're going home. National museums, zoos and monuments also close. 

If you haven't gotten your passport for that life-changing trip to some far-flung island, get it now: The passport service may be able to keep issuing passports, but it depends on how long the shutdown is.

But hey, it's not all bad news! You'll still be able to complain about how un-fun the post office is, because they all stay open. (Shoutout to stamps and postage fees for that one.) If you're a parent with a kid in a free lunch program, most schools will be able to keep that up, at least for about a month. 

Airports will stay open, but there could be more delays than usual. Social security checks will keep going out, and our butt-kicking on-duty military will still head to work, but there is a possibility they could miss out on pay. 

Oh, and here's the kicker: The president and all those senators and representatives who couldn't do their jobs and come to an agreement to keep the government going? They also keep getting paid.