On December 22nd of 2018, the Federal Government of the United States of America shut down. Depending on how your life and finances are organized you may not have felt the effects – directly. But if you are a federal worker or the family member of one, receive SNAP food benefits, are a federal inmate or the family member of one, live on a Reservation, or tried to file an Income Tax return or fly anywhere that requires a TSA check, then you felt those effects more directly.
A government shutdown occurs when there is a funding gap, or, lack of funding, for federal government operations, bureaus and projects. Each part of the federal government and it’s projects have to be funded through Appropriations Bills. Regular appropriations bills are passed annually, with the funding they provide covering one fiscal year. A fiscal year to the federal government runs from October 1st to September 30th of the following year.
In the fall of 2018, as the deadline to approve the 2019 appropriations bill loomed, a standoff between President Trump and Congress ensued. Like other bills, appropriations bills must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If a bill makes it through both houses, it must get ratified or vetoed by the President, and once ratified, a bill becomes law.
Trump, backed by conservative democrats, introduced a funding measure on border security, providing $5.7 billion towards construction of a new border wall along the the US-Mexico border. This funding measure was rejected by House Democrats, in favor of a smaller border security expenditure that would fortify existing border infrastructure. Not content with this subtle negotiation and backed by a litany of far-right and conservative constituents, President Trump refused to ratify the appropriations bill into law.
Without funding, the second “shutdown” of the Trump Presidency began on the 22nd of December. Democrats and Republicans each refused to pass any sort of legislation that did not contain the funding being proposed by their side of the aisle. Eventually, the shutdown dragged out to be the longest in history, finally capping at 35 days.
When a shutdown occurs there are two types of federal employees, or people who are paid directly by the federal government through appropriations bills, “excepted” and “non-excepted” employees. During those 35 days, 380,000 non-excepted federal workers were furloughed, or sent home without pay. 420,000 excepted workers were ordered to remain on the job without any idea when a paycheck would come. An excepted employees is someone in a job that involves the safety of human life, the protection of property, or certain other types of work designated by their agencies as necessary to continue.
There were reductions made to SNAP benefits across the country. Many of the 38 million people that received SNAP food subsidies were unsure if their benefits would continue after the late January disbursement. The IRS, which is in charge of processing the majority of taxes that individuals and companies pay, faced a severe back log on processing tax refunds estimated at 140 billion dollars.
As the shutdown entered its third week, unpaid Air Traffic Controllers and TSA agents began rolling ‘sick outs’, a semi-organized structure often used by workers who do not have legal union means to have their demands granted. These sick outs caused major delays in pleasure and business travel as mostly East Coast international airports began having to shut down counters and terminals.
On Friday January 25th, under political pressure, and faced with a rising disgruntled working class constituency and pseudo-striking laborers, Trump agreed to re-open the government temporarily. The 3-week pause is intended to give both Republicans and Democrats a chance to negotiate a new spending bill, that according to Trump, will include funding for the border wall and according to House Democrats, will not. If the resolution is not passed by the February deadline, Trump has confirmed he is willing to stall the process into another shutdown or declare a national emergency that would bypass Congress all together.