What would a US government shutdown mean for military, mail delivery, and national security?

Neither snow nor rain, nor political dysfunction…
Neither snow nor rain, nor political dysfunction…
Image: Reuters/Chris Aluka Berry
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The Trump White House is determined to shut down the government on Dec. 21, in an attempt to get funding for a border wall with Mexico. So what happens to federal services if the government closes for business?

During a shutdown, the US government “must discontinue all non-essential discretionary functions until new funding legislation is passed and signed into law,” as the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget explains, while essential services and mandatory spending programs continue to function. In this case, about 75% of the government has already been funded in an October spending bill, but key agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, remain unfunded.

Around 380,000 employees would be furloughed and another 420,000 forced to work without pay, according to a December report from the Senate Appropriations committee, as nine of 15 government agencies shut down. That means:

  • Air traffic controllers and many Transportation Security Agency employees continue working, but don’t get paid.
  • FBI, DEA agents, and correction officers continue working, but don’t get paid.
  • Active-duty military are required to keep working, but they don’t get paid. Death benefits aren’t paid to military survivors.
  • Mail is delivered, as are Social Security checks and Medicaid payments.
  • NASA is closed, and the Department of Commerce.
  • Some national parks may be opened.
  • Payments to public housing that support three million households are suspended.
  • Congress still gets paid.

The US government has shutdown dozens of times in the past 40 years, and has temporarily shut several times during the Trump administration. A two-day shutdown in January 2018 also was tied to a fight over border funding, and to the fate of “Dreamers,” who came to the United States undocumented as children and were promised protection from deportation under the Obama administration.