TFK Explains: The Government Shutdown

January 11, 2019
SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED The Smithsonian was forced to close its museums and the National Zoo during the government shutdown.
TASOS KATOPODIS—GETTY IMAGES

What is a government shutdown?

Government agencies depend on funding from Congress to operate. A government shutdown happens when lawmakers are not able to pass a federal budget to fund these agencies. During a shutdown, some parts of the government close until lawmakers approve a spending plan.

Why did this government shutdown happen?

In December, Congress passed a spending bill to keep the government running, but President Donald Trump didn’t sign the bill. He wants it to include $5.6 billion to begin building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

During his election campaign, Trump promised to build a wall. He says one is needed to stop people from entering the U.S. illegally. But Democratic lawmakers oppose the wall. They say it is unnecessary and too expensive. It’s estimated that the wall could cost between $25 billion and $70 billion over 10 years.

Who is affected by the shutdown?

About 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed. That means they have been temporarily laid off and are not being paid. Another 420,000 employees continue to work without pay.

Government employees affected include border patrol officers and transportation security officers. At the National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., animals are still being cared for but the zoo is closed to the public. Across the country, most national parks are open, but the National Park Service has closed some facilities, such as restrooms.

J. David Cox is the president of the American Federation of Government Employees. In a statement, he called the shutdown “inhumane.” Cox says government workers “deserve the decency of knowing when their next paycheck is coming and that they will be paid for their work.”

When will the shutdown end?

Lawmakers are working to come to an agreement. Democrats want to pass another spending plan that does not include funding for a wall. Trump says he will reject any bill that doesn’t include that funding.

Has this happened before?

Yes. The last shutdown was in January 2018. It lasted 69 hours. In the past, affected employees have been paid for this time after a shutdown ended. But that’s not guaranteed.

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