21 ways the government shutdown is holding up life in America

Closed until further notice.
Closed until further notice.
Image: Reuters
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The US’s partial federal government shutdown, sparked after Donald Trump refused to sign a Congressional funding bill that didn’t include money for a border wall, is now in its 18th day, making it the longest since 1995.

Nearly 800,000 federal employees are directly affected, including FBI agents who aren’t getting paid, and TSA agents, who have been calling in sick. If the shutdown goes any longer, there’s questions about whether 40 million Americans will be able to afford enough food, and how many in subsidized housing will pay their rent.

It is also having having an impact far beyond stretched budgets and government paychecks—affecting everything from corporate M&A to college basketball.


Only about 275 “essential” employees are working at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) during the shutdown, or about 6% of the overall workforce. That means the SEC isn’t reviewing new IPO filings right now. Uber, Lyft, and Slack were preparing to go public when the shutdown happened.

“Because it’s the start of a new year, the timing couldn’t be worse,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has sparred with Trump over wall funding. “Companies are preparing major updates for their shareholders, annual reports, policy statements—this is all going to slow down our New York economy and the national economy.”


The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) will not be approving beer labels or processing permits during the shutdown. However, they will be collecting federal excise tax payments as normal.


The Federal Communications Commission was in the midst of reviewing T-Mobile’s $26.5-billion bid for Sprint, but it closed its doors on Jan. 3.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is also shut, meaning Canadian miner Americas Silver’s merger with Colorado-based Pershing Gold could be delayed beyond a Jan. 14 target.


E-Verify, the government website that lets employers confirm someone’s eligibility to work in the United States, is operating at a reduced level of functionality during the shutdown. It’s available for information purposes, but is not providing verification services. 

That means that as the US government is shut over funding to build a wall to stop illegal immigrants coming to the US, one of the basic checks employers have against hiring illegal immigrants is shut as well.

College basketball

David Ugochukwu, a Penn State forward, can’t get back out on the court, Sports Illustrated reports, because his mother Lucy Ugochukwu works for the U.S. Department of the Treasury in customer service. Her paycheck covers his tuition, and she hasn’t received one since the shutdown. Because he has an unpaid balance on his housing bill, Ugochukwu can’t sign up for spring classes, and is ineligible to play, according to National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) rules.

Building the wall

Trump’s shutdown over lack of funding for the border wall is preventing the Department of Homeland Security from issuing contracts to build the wall, a spokeswoman told Quartz. The DHS was allocated $1.6 billion for physical border security over the last two fiscal years, but only about 60% of that has been committed to hard contracts. “An additional approximately $300 million is ready to award as soon as the government reopens,” the spokeswoman said.

Unfed baby trout

Vermont’s fish hatcheries may be closed, but what about the fish? “Ideally they’re fed three times a day—right now we’re down to two, sometimes three [times],” hatchery manager Henry Bouchard told Vermont Public Radio. “The more we feed them, you know, the more cleaning we’ve got to do. So, you know, it’s just the whole cycle of it.”

Critter cams

The Smithsonian runs Washington, DC’s National Zoo, which means that the elephant cam, lion cam, and the panda cam are all down. The animals are still being fed, though.

Home sales

Because the Internal Revenue Service isn’t verifying tax returns during the shutdown, home sellers and buyers can’t close on deals, the National Association of Realtors warns.

Laws of the sea

Cargo ships headed to ports are not being inspected for violations of safety or environmental regulations, fishing laws are going unenforced, and Coast Guard members aren’t boarding boats to look for proper life-saving equipment as the Coast Guard is stripped of usual funding. They are still conducting search and rescue and law enforcement operations, though. 

“Everybody is just hoping for this [shutdown] to be expedited,” said Steve Strohmaier, petty officer in the Coast Guard’s New York Public Affairs Office, which oversees Connecticut, told the News Times.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard members say that the USAA, a military bank, isn’t offering to float them the amount of their paychecks interest-free, as it has in other shutdowns.

Superfund sites

Non-essential staffers at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are on furlough right now, which means mediation over the toxic waste cleanup of the Housatonic River in western Massachusetts is on hold. The river was contaminated with PCBs by General Electric from 1932 to 1977.

“While there is an argument that I could probably participate in having conversations with nongovernmental parties in the Housatonic mediation, the reality is, without the EPA’s participation, we are pretty much dead in the water until the shutdown ends,” one subcontractor told New England Public Radio

Legalizing immigrants

With over 300 immigration judges furloughed without pay, many immigration courts have ground to a halt.

The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review told CNN that the cases of immigrants already detained will continue moving forward. Immigrants who are not detained will have their cases “reset for a later date.” The backlog being created by the ongoing shutdown means it could take years before the rescheduled cases are heard, said Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. 

Science experiments

The federal government plays a key role in funding American science and technology research, but not during the shutdown.

“Any shutdown of the federal government can disrupt or delay research projects, lead to uncertainty over new research, and reduce researcher access to agency data and infrastructure,” Rush Holt, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a statement.


TSA Precheck 

Airport security lines are lengthening as unpaid Transportation Security Administration employees call in sick, and the agency’s precheck function is not working.

Geology classes 

College professors who use federal data deemed nonessential may soon have to restructure their coursework if the shutdown continues, geology professor Anne Jefferson told the Washington Post. Jefferson teaches a class that relies on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website—which is currently not being updated. 

Joshua Tree

California’s Joshua Tree National Park will close to visitors Thursday because of extensive damage by unsupervised visitors, who  destroyed trees and drove off road. 

“The way it looks right now because of resources or lack thereof, we have about eight rangers that oversee a large park, we will remain closed until appropriations are put into place to reopen,” park spokesman George Land told the Los Angeles Times.

Some of the trees in the park are estimated to be 1,000 years old. 

Love itself 

You’ll have to wait until after the shutdown if you want to get hitched in Washington, DC, as the District’s Marriage Bureau is closed for the duration. However, divorces are still available (though with reduced staff to handle filings).

New medical and electronic devices

The US Food and Drug Administration is not reviewing applications for new medical devices while the government is shut down, consultant Daniel Kamm told the Washington Post. Two of his devices awaiting approval include a diagnostic X-ray machine and an accessory for a defibrillator. The FCC is also not testing or approving new electronic devices.

Scenic routes

Even though North Carolina’s scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is supposed to be open, large portions are cut off by gates during the shutdown. 

“Everybody told us to check out Asheville—to check out the parkway—but here we are,” one visitor told the local Citizen Times, standing on a blocked stretch of roadway. 


Federal employees who have been furloughed are not guaranteed back pay when they return to work; Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) have introduced legislation that would change that.

People who work for federal contractors historically have not received any back pay at all, although Congress members are discussing a bipartisan bill to reimburse them too.