9 ways the U.S. government shutdown could get worse

President Donald Trump has warned the shutdown could last months, or even years, if he and Congress can’t come to an agreement on government funding.

9 ways the U.S. government shutdown could get worse
[Photo: Architect of the Capitol/Wikimedia Commons]

A partial government shutdown has put thousands of federal employees temporarily out of work and forced others to work without pay. It’s also caused the closure of federal operations ranging from the Smithsonian Institution’s museums to critical payments to Native American groups.


But if the shutdown continues to drag on, even more people and programs could be affected. Additional agencies will run out of funds to manage their operations, and people looking to claim food benefits, utilize federal courts, or simply file their taxes could all see disruptions.

Here’s some of the potential issues coming down the pipeline:

  • Federal courts. As of Friday, the federal court system will run out of funding, Fortune reports, forcing nonessential staff to stay home on unpaid furlough. Courts are expected to essentially triage cases, likely prioritizing criminal matters since defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to speedy trials. Civil cases, still quite important to people involved in them, could be delayed. Immigration courts, already largely shut down, are prioritizing people who are in detention, Roll Call reports.
  • Tax refunds. Tax refunds and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assistance to taxpayers seeking to understand the new tax code changes will likely be affected if the government isn’t funded by at latest the end of this month. The Trump administration has said the IRS can pay out refunds during a shutdown, but the agency is operating with a skeleton staff. The agency is normally expected to start processing returns by the end of January, the AARP reports. Quarterly estimated tax payments, owed by freelancers, small business owners, and others whose taxes aren’t covered by traditional withholding, are due January 15. Experts say taxpayers should file and make payments as normal, though IRS officials may not be available to answer any questions.
  • Federal scientists. Scientists at agencies from NASA to the National Weather Service will miss important conferences, including the Meeting of the American Astronomical Society scheduled for this week. Even outside scientists who receive federal funding might not be able to pay for visits to share their research with colleagues from around the world, ABC News reports. Top tech regulators, like Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, also canceled appearances at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. It’s unclear whether Trump will make a scheduled trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos later this month.
  • USDA. Farmers whose crop sales have been impacted by ongoing trade disputes with China and other countries were given until January 15 to apply for federal aid, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is largely closed due to the shutdown and hasn’t been processing applications. The USDA may extend the deadline, Politico reports.
  • SEC. Companies planning to go public, potentially including big tech startups like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, may be forced to delay their plans due to the shutdown. That’s because employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which regulates public offerings, are on furlough. The longer the government stays shut down, the more IPOs and other corporate actions like mergers may have to be delayed.
  • Weather training. National Hurricane Center training sessions for local emergency managers in hurricane-prone areas are scheduled for next week, and it’s unclear when and if they can be rescheduled, the Washington Post reports. National Weather Service forecasting models have also begun to deteriorate in accuracy during the shutdown, according to the Post.
  • National parks. The National Park Service will start using entrance fees to fund some basic operations under a memorandum issued this past weekend, though some have warned that might violate federal law, the Washington Post reports. Situations in national parks, many of which are open but massively understaffed with few workers on hand to monitor visitors or clean up garbage and bathrooms, have reportedly deteriorated as litter and human waste pile up. Some parks have been closed or had access restricted due to unsafe conditions, and some states have taken up funding for parks in their jurisdictions.
  • SNAP benefits. Food aid programs that feed almost 39 million people could run into trouble next month, Politico reports. The USDA, which runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)–formerly known as food stamps–hasn’t commented on its plans or how much money it has in reserve to fund the program.
  • Veterans’ services. Veterans’ benefits are funded through September, CBS reports, and shutdowns have historically been resolved in three weeks or less. But if the shutdown actually lasts months or years, as Trump has declared, they could be endangered as well.

About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.