YEAR IN REVIEW: Government Shutdown

By Drew Murphy

Happy Holidays! The U.S. government gave thousands of employees what amounts to a lump of coal in their stockings by partially shutting down at midnight Dec. 21. In a normal year, Congress approves a spending budget for each agency of the government for the following year by Sept. 30. This year, Congressional leaders and the President could not agree on a new budget because the President wants $5 billion included to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border; many in Congress oppose the wall. The shutdown is partial because 75 percent of government funding was already approved for the budget year that started on October 1, 2018. Agencies previously approved for funding include Labor, Energy, Defense, Health and Human Services, Education and Veterans Affairs. Some of the agencies affected by the partial shutdown are Homeland Security, Justice, IRS and other Department of Treasury offices. There have been 22 federal government shutdowns in the United States in the past 40 years, including three in the last year alone.

What is a shutdown? A shutdown happens when Congress fails to pass or the President fails to sign legislation to fund the federal government’s operations. In a shutdown, an agency no longer has the money to operate and must stop those activities that are not deemed essential. Many employees of the federal government are then furloughed, which means they are forced to take a leave of absence without pay. It is usually temporary, and once legislation is passed to fund the government, those employees can go back to work. More than 380,000 federal employees face unpaid time off in the current shutdown. This includes almost all of NASA, portions of the Commerce Department, Transportation Department, Treasury Department, Housing and Urban Development and Forest and National Park Service. Congress could pass legislation to pay these workers for any pay missed as a result of furloughs.

Other employees, referred to as “excepted,” have to continue to work without pay because their jobs involve the safety of people’s lives or the protection of property.  More than 420,000 federal employees, including workers from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and other law enforcement, must work through the shutdown. These workers are not likely to receive any compensation until it ends, and legislation will need to be passed to pay them retroactively. 

Are we at Hanover High School affected by this shutdown? For the most part, we’re not, unless you have a parent or relative that has to work for no pay or is forced to take time off. The National Parks are open, but garbage and waste is beginning to pile up. The Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo are among the museums and monuments closed; I’m sure the current Hanover 8th graders are glad their field trip to Washington D.C. isn’t happening this month. Additionally, new homebuyers may not get loans they were applying for, delaying the purchase and sale of homes currently on the market in Hanover. If you were planning on keeping tabs on NASA missions and discoveries, you’ll have to wait. Employees that run NASA TV have been furloughed.  Additionally, if you were going to buy the next hot initial public stock offering, you’re out of luck as the Securities and Exchange Commission employees are also furloughed.

Hopefully, the President and Congress will do their job in the New Year and come to a compromise so that all agencies and employees can resume their normal operations.

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