At the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C., fences block the entrance to the stairs and posted signs announce, “Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed.” Similar signs hang at other federal government-run national parks and museums around the country, from the Statue of Liberty, in New York, to Yosemite National Park, in California, and even at the U.S. cemetery near the D-Day beaches at Normandy, in France. These locations—and many other government services—are closed because the U.S. government has partially shut down for the first time in 17 years.
The federal government sets a budget that pays for agencies and services. Without a plan for how to spend money, the government has to shut down. But for a budget to pass, it has to be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives. The shutdown follows the failure on Monday of Congress to pass a federal funding bill for the new budget year, which began October 1. While essential services continue, the shutdown is keeping hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job.
Impact of the Shutdown
Although the government has shut down, some important services are still getting done. Soldiers and other members of the military who help protect America are still keeping us safe. The Post Office is still delivering letters. Air traffic controllers are still helping planes land safely at airports. Inspectors for the Department of Agriculture are still checking meat for safety.
Essential federal workers, like the President and members of Congress, are still on the job. But many federal government employees—about 800,000 in all—are furloughed, which means they have to stay home, without pay, until a deal is reached. For example, most of NASA’s 18,000 employees are not working. Government-funded medical research has been delayed. The government is not able to issue as many visas—documents that allow foreign people to visit our country—and passports, which enable Americans to visit other nations.
Many government workers, such as public school teachers, firefighters, and police officers, are paid by local governments or state governments. Even though the federal government has been shut down, their jobs should not be affected. Kids are still going to school, unless they’re part of a program like Head Start, which depends on grant money from Washington.
But the shutdown affects many others who aren’t on the government’s payroll. Because so many popular tourist spots are closed, businesses that rely on these visitors are feeling the pinch. "The restaurants, the hotels, the grocery stores, the gasoline stations, they're all very devastated with the closing of the parks," Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia told the Associated Press.
The Washington, D.C. region, where many of the furloughed workers live, is expected to lose $220 million per day in federal payroll while the government is closed, according to Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. This will hurt the local economy. Without paychecks, federal workers “won’t be buying anything,” Fuller told the Associated Press. “They’re just going to hunker down.”
Passing the Budget
Before the shutdown, a federal funding bill went back and forth between the House and the Senate. A major sticking point was whether the government would pay for changes in health care. The Senate, which has a Democratic majority, wanted to pass a budget that would fund President Barack Obama’s new health care law. But many members of the House, which has a Republican majority, do not want government money used that way.
The federal government has shut down many times before. In 1995, it was closed for 21 days. Lawmakers are expected to eventually come to a compromise that that will get the government running again. On Wednesday, President Obama summoned congressional leaders to the White House, where they were expected to discuss the budget.
For many Americans, the compromise can’t come soon enough. World War II veteran Fred Yanow, from Northbrook, Illinois, is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to visit the World War II Memorial, under a charity called Honor Flight that gives free flights to veterans to see the memorial built in their honor. Yanow still plans to visit the now-closed World War II Memorial, even if he can only see it from the road.: “It’s a foolish thing to deprive World War II veterans of their memorial,” Yanow told TIME.