What’s Up with the Shutdown?


The federal government failed to pass a spending bill, causing the first government shutdown since 2013. This process will complicate many lives—those of federal workers and the millions of Americans who rely on them. (Washington Post)

Remember the last shutdown? Use our study guide to compare and contrast the impact on government and everyday citizens.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Photograph courtesy Architect of the Capitol

Discussion Ideas

  • The federal government failed to pass a spending bill Friday night. That spending bill is also called an “appropriations bill.” What are appropriations?
    • Appropriations describe money and budgets authorized for a specific purpose. Congressional appropriations bills outline how much money a program, agency, project, or organization receives.


  • The failure to pass an appropriations bill is leading to thousands of workers being furloughed. What is a furlough?
    • A furlough is a period of unpaid leave. A furloughed employee is not laid off or fired, but they are essentially out of work. Furloughed employees usually return to work after the furlough ends.


  • Not every job in the federal government is going to be furloughed. What agencies, programs, and jobs are exempt from furloughs? Take a look at this WaPo article for some help.
    • Those not being furloughed fall into three big categories: exempted, already funded, and excepted.
    • Exempted. Exempted programs are not dependent on federal appropriations funding:
      • US Postal Service. The USPS operates on a budget from stamps and other merchandise it sells. Because the USPS does not rely on federal appropriations, it will continue to operate as normal.
      • some assistance programs. Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), unemployment insurance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps and some other assistance programs will continue to receive benefits, as they do not rely on appropriations funding.
      • schools, parks, libraries, local government. Although they receive federal funding, these programs are controlled by local governments.
    • Already funded by appropriations:
      • prisons. Congress has already explicitly funded prisons, so they aren’t affected by the shutdown.
      • courts. Federal courts have three weeks of federal funding before furloughs may begin.
      • Smithsonian museums. The Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will remain open at least through Monday.
      • school “formula funds” such as Title I, special education, and career and technical education
    • Excepted from furloughs. Excepted employees are those whose jobs involve “the safety of human life, the protection of property, or certain other types of work” designated by their agencies as necessary to continue:
      • Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Hospitals
      • airports, Amtrak, Transportation Security Administration, and air traffic controllers
      • overseas military operations
      • astronauts on the ISS
      • Department of Education Financial Aid
      • child nutrition programs (school lunch and breakfast)
      • USDA food inspection
      • zookeepers at the National Zoo
      • Congress
      • the President
      • political appointees (Cabinet members, etc.)


  • What agencies, programs, and jobs are most impacted by furloughs? Take a look at this WaPo graphic for some help.
    • Housing and Urban Development, 96% furloughed. Although local public housing agencies are not federal agencies, they are dependent on federal appropriations. The administration of programs and rental assistance will be reduced, although HUD Secretary Ben Carson says “No one will be displaced because of the shutdown. Politics should not interfere with the support we provide.”
    • Environmental Protection Agency, 95% furloughed. According to Nat Geo, “Staffers are allowed to maintain scientific instruments, test animals, and controlled environments such as freezers during a shutdown. In addition, the EPA says it will maintain Superfund projects that ‘would pose an imminent threat to human life,’ such as projects that prevent the imminent contamination of drinking water.”
    • Department of Education, 95% furloughed. Cash flows to school districts, colleges, and vocational programs will slow. If the shutdown continues through the end of the month:


  • Can you think of some activities typical Americans won’t be able to do during the federal government shutdown?


  • Take a look at our walk-through of the 2013 government shutdown. Is the current shutdown projected to have a bigger or smaller impact on everyday citizens?
    • Smaller. Programs like financial aid, passport and visa services, national parks, Smithsonian museums, veterans services, and firearm background checks are all more “forward funded” or excepted than they were in 2013.



Washington Post: Everything you need to know about a government shutdown

Washington Post: What closes when the government shuts down?

Washington Post: Who gets sent home when the government shuts down?

Education Week: The Government Shutdown and K-12 Education: Your Guide

Nat Geo: How the U.S. Government Shutdown Could Impact Science

Nat Geo: Breaking Down the Shutdown

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