United States

What You Can and Can't Do During a Government Shutdown

The shutdown of the federal government will affect the everyday lives of people across the country, regardless of whether they're government workers. 

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are off the job, limiting what government services are available to the public.

Here’s a list of what you can and cannot do during a government shutdown. We'll be adding to the list. If you know of something we've left off, email us and we’ll research it. Check out some of the questions and answers we have received below.

During a shutdown, you can:

Ride Metro: Metrorail and Metrobus service will operate on a regular weekday schedule on Monday despite federal government shutdown.

Get Social Security benefits: Payments would continue to be issued, and the Social Security Administration says they do not expect delays to payments.

Send and receive mail: The U.S. Postal Service will continue to deliver mail and keep post offices open, because it is funded through the sale of postage, products and services.

Visit Smithsonian museums through Jan. 23: "We will be open for our usual operating hours tomorrow. We look forward to seeing you!"

Visit the National Zoo through Jan. 22: The National Zoo, like the Smithsonian's museums and research centers, is open through Tuesday. Ahead of the week, "The Smithsonian can use prior year funds still available to us to do so," they said earlier in the week.

Visit some national parks: The National Park Service says park roads, lookouts, trails and open-air memorials like the National Mall will remain accessible. But during the shutdown, emergency services in those areas will be limited. Visitor facilities like restrooms, visitor centers and information desks will also be unavailable. 

Visit a Veterans Affairs hospital: VA hospitals would remain open. 

Be protected by the FBI, Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies: Government functions essential to public safety would continue to operate.

Travel by air: Federal air traffic controllers and most Transportation Security Administration agents would continue to work. 

Cross the border: U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents would stay on the job.

Eat meat safely: Meat inspectors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture would continue to report to work because they're essential for public safety.

Watch for updates on Robert Mueller's investigation: The investigation is funded by Congress, not the Department of Justice.

Reopen the federal government: Representatives and senators would remain on the job, but many staff members would be sent home.

Watch a Supreme Court argument: The highest court in the land would remain open.

Continue your health care through several government programs: the Indian Health Service, Health Resources and Services Administration and the National Institutes of Health would continue treating current patients.

Get help for mental health crises or addiction: the disaster distress helpline, treatment locator, treatment referral line and the suicide prevention line would remain open.

Buy necessities with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits: TANF received full or advanced appropriations in the last fiscal year. SNAP and WIC can continue paying benefits into February.

Receive Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program payments: States have the funding to continue paying Medicaid recipients through June, the department of health and human services says.

Use key functions of the federal healthcare exchange: Healthcare.gov would allow Americans to determine their eligibility on the exchanges.

Visit the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing: Public tours, mail order sales and visitor centers are operating on a normal schedule.

Catch a show at the Kennedy Center: The Kennedy Center may have reduced hours on some days, but you can still buy tickets and attend shows or events.

During a shutdown, you can't:

Get military death benefits: Most military functions are covered under the Pay Our Military Act, but death benefits would likely stop until the government reopens.

Check the legal work status of an employee: The E-Verify system allows employers across the country to check on immigration status, but it's a federal website, which means it would be shut down.

Get food through federal nutrition programs: The Senior Nutrition program and Native American Nutrition and Supportive Services would stop.

Become a new National Institutes of Health patient: Unless the NIH director steps in, the agency wouldn’t take new patients during a government shutdown.

Visit the Library of Congress: All Library of Congress buildings are now closed and all public events are canceled until further notice. Also, all inquiries and requests to the Library of Congress web-based services will not be received or responded to until the shutdown ends. Information on loc.gov will not be updated. Copyright.gov and Congress.gov will remain available.

Visit some National Park Service attractions: The Natonal Park Service says the following attractions will be closed: 

Arlington House, Belle Haven Marina, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site, Clara Barton National Historic Site, Daingerfield Island restaurant, Triple Craft, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, Fort Marcy, Fort Washington, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Great Falls (Md.) Visitor Center, Great Falls (Va.) Visitor Center, Hains Point, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site,Old Stone House, Oxon Hill Farm, Peirce Mill, Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium, Turkey Run, Washington Monument and the White House Visitor Center 

Visit the National Arboretum, or watch the bald eagle cam: The arboretum and it's bald eagle camera are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Use public restrooms along the National Mall: The National Park Service says all public restrooms and comfort stations along the National Mall will be closed. Portable comfort stations will be available in select locations during the shutdown.

Email questions and answers:

Q: Will VA disability payments be paid?

A: According to U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster’s website, “According to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, survivor benefits are similar to disability/pension benefits paid to veterans. Thus, survivors currently in receipt of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or Survivors' Pension will continue to receive those payments. New claims may be delayed.” 

Q: Will funding for high education, such as direct unsubsidized loans, will be distributed to institutions?

A: Contact your higher education institution to see how the government shutdown affects them. It would depend on how that program is funded.

Q: How will passport applications be affected, both for filing them and for applications in the midst of being processed?

A: The State Department will continue to issue passports and provide other consular services. However, processing passport applications are on hold until the government reopens. Passport centers within federal buildings are closed.

Q: Will military commissaries be closed?

A: The Defense Commissary Agency does not have a process for operations during a government shutdown. However, it is likely that stateside commissaries would close, while those overseas would remain open since they are considered "essential." There does not appear to be a definite answer at this time.

Q: During the shutdown, will we still get disability checks?

A: Social Security and disability checks continue to go out. New applications may be delayed.

Q: Do you know if people who receive child support via attorney general will still receive the checks?

A: I cannot find anything to indicate whether those payments will continue. You should contact the attorney general to find out their situation.

Q: Would IRS taxpayer assistance centers still be open?

A: If those assistance centers utilize federal workers, it is likely those workers would be furloughed on Monday if the shutdown continues. Call before heading to a center to see if they are open.

Q: What about military funerals that are scheduled next week? At a national cemetery? Are those suspended during the shutdown?

A: According to the Arlington National Cemetery, they will remain open and conduct normal operations during the shutdown. 

Q: How about tax returns?

A: Tax refunds could be delayed, because IRS workers are likely to be furloughed on Monday if the shutdown continues.

Q: I was wondering will public transportations still be available. Also will it affect the shelters and being placed in a permanent housing?

A: If those agencies involve federal employees, it is unclear what will happen on Monday as many federal workers are expected to be furloughed. Your best bet is to contact those agencies directly to see how they are impacted.

Q: How about immigration? My wife is Filipina and we are navigating the immigration process for her and my 10 month old son. Do you know if the USCIS department is still working during this shutdown?

A: According to the National Law Review, “Adjudications at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency at the US Department of Homeland Security that reviews nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions and applications for immigration benefits, is fee-funded, and should continue on a normal schedule.”

Q: Can you park in DC?

A: Parking is enforced by the D.C. Department of Public Works, which remains open along with the rest of local government.

Q: Will NIH be open for federal workers?

A: The government shutdown will not adversely affect patients already in medical studies. The shutdown could mean interrupting research that's been going on for years.

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