The US Government has shutdown since 22nd December 2018. It is not the first time that it has happened. In fact, since the practice started in 1976, the Washington Post reports that there have been 19 shutdowns.
So what is a shutdown and what exactly happens during one? Let’s start with a little background information. All governments need money to run different programmes in the country like building roads, or funding school programs, or paying the armed forces. So every year in the USA, there is a Spending Plan which sets out how, and on what programmes, the government is going to use its money for the next year. This plan needs to get an okay from a majority of lawmakers from both the ruling party (currently the Republican Party) and the opposition (currently the Democratic Party). If the Spending Plan does not get passed, the government goes into shutdown. That’s precisely what happened this time around when President Trump has said he will not support the Plan unless lawmakers agree to spend $5 billion for a border wall with Mexico. The Democrats are refusing to do this, and so there is a standoff.
During the shutdown, many government ‘non-essential’ workers are on forced leave and are not paid. These include people who work in national parks and museums and people who work for the tax agency, amongst others. Most ‘important’ departments still work though; the military, law enforcement, air traffic controllers, the postal system all continue functioning, but without pay. The President has to work too. Whenever the government opens, they will get paid for the work they have done, but most people need their salaries to be paid on time coming in regularly and that is why ordinary citizens worry about how long the shutdown could last.
While there have been attempts to try and get some laws passed so that select government departments can start work again, so far these have not been successful. As of 4th January 2019, President Trump has said that he will keep the shutdown going for “months or even years” till he gets money for his border wall. It seems to be a tense case of ‘wait and watch’.
Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant . She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.