2018 has been a political roller coaster ride. As we head down the final week it doesn’t show signs of stopping. The United States is (as of the writing of this article) in its third government shutdown of the year. The cause has been the same issue each time. The President wants funding for a border wall and congressional Democrats don’t want to give it to him. While a compromise was reached relatively quickly in the first two shutdowns, both sides seem especially entrenched this time. It’s difficult to say how long this will last. In the meantime, let’s examine exactly what a government shutdown really is.

Government Shutdown

It would be more accurate to call it a partial government shutdown because the entire government doesn’t shut down. However, when the previous federal budget lapses before a new one is approved and implemented, many government agencies stop getting paid. That means employees of those government agencies stop getting paid. Worse yet, some of them have to keep working anyway because the federal government handles a lot of important things that can’t just be dropped and picked up again when the political squabbling is done.

What Stays Open?

Every shutdown is a little different, depending on the funding status of each particular agency. At the same time, services considered essential will remain open regardless. Some of these agencies are funded independently of the budget being argued over and some are considered mandatory spending and will be funded no matter what. Social Security benefits, as well as Medicare and Medicaid,  are considered mandatory spending and should continue without issue. The Postal Service is funded independently so you can expect to keep getting your mail for the time being. Veterans don’t have to worry about their funding going away because it is also funded separately. Airports, prisons, much of the federal justice system, libraries and the military are all set to maintain their funding. However, as the shutdown drags on, military personnel may start to see slowdowns in their payment. Likewise, food stamps and other assistance programs that are prepared for short shutdowns could be affected the longer the shutdown lasts.

What Shuts Down?

It’s a sticky situation. The President is at the heart of the shutdown. However, he is also the one who can decide what is officially considered essential. Again, much of this depends on how long the shutdown lasts. National parks, the IRS, and the State Department are likely the biggest agencies that will be partially shut down or forced to furlough (give leave of absences to) employees. Moreover, if the President wanted to put pressure on the situation, he could shut down things like air traffic control and more directly affect the lives of non-federal employees. Fortunately, we are not there yet, and hopefully, we never will be.

Potential Compromise

Thus far, congressional Democrats have offered to spend well over the 5 billion dollars the President is asking for on border security, just not for a wall that many deem symbolic at best. The President has refused this compromise as a wall was one of his biggest campaign promises. To make matters worse, things are getting tenser at the border as young children are starting to die in US custody, usually already exhausted or ill from the trip getting here. Compromise becomes more needed and harder to reach every day the shutdown lasts. Unless you’re a federal employee, you probably won’t be directly affected by a brief shutdown. Hopefully, things will be resolved quickly and the American people won’t have to feel the brunt of the political posturing.