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President Signs Bill Averting a Federal Government Shutdown

Spending measure will keep federal operations going until early 2024

spinner image interior of the capitol rotunda inside the dome looking up next to a large statue
The Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol, photographed on Sept. 22.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

President Joe Biden signed legislation on Nov. 17 that will keep the federal government running until early next year. Under the bipartisan measure, about 20 percent of agencies will be funded through Jan. 19, 2024, while the remaining 80 percent will maintain their services until Feb. 9.

Biden signed the measure into law before the current Nov. 18 funding deadline. That gives Congress and the White House time to negotiate how to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2024. The legislation will finance the government at current spending levels.

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Even in the event of a government shutdown, millions of Americans would continue to receive their Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits. People would also continue to be able to get letters and their prescription drugs uninterrupted through the U.S. mail, among other essential services.

While most federal agencies rely on congressional appropriations to pay for their operations, Social Security and Medicare are considered mandatory programs and are not subject to annual appropriations. Nevertheless, while key functions would continue in the event of a shutdown, some services might be curtailed depending on how long a shutdown lasts.

Absent an agreement to fund the government beyond next year’s January and February deadlines, many federal workers would face the prospect of being furloughed without pay and their job duties going unfilled. Federal workers deemed essential, including many active military members, would continue to work without receiving a paycheck. By law, back pay owed to federal workers would be paid out after the shutdown ends.

The last time large portions of the federal government shut down was from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019. That 35-day shutdown was the longest in history.

Here’s a look at how a shutdown could affect these vital services:

Social Security

Social Security benefits would be paid as usual. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is not subject to the annual appropriations process. It has a permanent funding source.

SSA’s shutdown contingency plan says applications for Social Security retirement benefits, survivor benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) would all continue to be accepted and processed. If you have a hearing scheduled, it would happen. The agency would also continue to issue new Social Security cards and replacement cards. Field offices and phone lines would remain open.

A few customer services that are not considered essential would be suspended, including benefit verifications.


Like Social Security, Medicare services would largely continue as normal. Enrollees could still go to the doctor or hospital and get their drug prescriptions filled. Depending on how long a shutdown lasts, medical providers could see a lag in their payments.

If you want to enroll in Medicare during the shutdown, you could still go to and fill out an application. The Medicare hotline (800-633-4227) would continue to operate.

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One service that wouldn’t be available during a shutdown is getting a replacement Medicare card. Those are generated by the Social Security Administration, which says it wouldn’t issue replacement Medicare cards during a shutdown.

Mail delivery

Letters and packages would be delivered as usual, and post office branches would remain open. The U.S. Postal Service is an independent agency and because it does not depend on the federal budget for its funding, it wouldn’t be affected by a shutdown.


Most government services for military veterans and their families would continue during a shutdown, including within the Veterans Health Administration. VA hospitals would remain open and fully staffed. The Tricare health insurance program would continue to operate as usual. Veterans would still get their pension benefits and claims would continue to be processed. Burials would continue at national cemeteries.


Air travel: Commercial flights would continue as usual. Air traffic controllers and airport security screeners are considered essential workers, so they would remain on the job. However, if you’re traveling by plane, you would want to get to the airport a little earlier than usual. During the partial government shutdown in 2018–2019, security lines at some airports were longer than usual because many TSA screeners, who like other essential federal workers were required to work without being paid, called in sick.

Train travel: Amtrak trains would keep running as usual. Although federally owned, Amtrak is chartered as a private corporation and not subject to a government shutdown. During the 2018–2019 shutdown, Amtrak service was not impacted.

Passports: The State Department would continue to issue and renew passports and visas. Routine passport applications can be completed at most post offices, which would remain open during a government shutdown. However, some passport offices located in federal buildings may be closed, so it would be a good idea to check before going to one.

Food safety

Meat, poultry, eggs and various species of catfish that are processed at nearly 7,000 commercial facilities in the U.S. would continue to be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). It’s not clear yet how other food-processing facilities — such as cereal makers, ice cream plants and cheese factories — would be affected. During the 2018–2019 shutdown, routine U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections were initially stopped. Some were later restored.

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Drug safety

The FDA would continue to approve drugs, inspect drug-manufacturing facilities and regulate tobacco products, as these functions are paid for by user fees. They would also continue to address imminent threats to human health or life including outbreaks of food-borne illness or infectious diseases, product recalls and drug shortages. 


USDA, which runs the federal food assistance programs for lower-income families, has said that these benefits “will continue to the extent that funds … are available to support those programs.” This includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In previous shutdowns, that has meant that benefits go out as usual during the first month, but if the government remains unfunded after 30 days, recipients could see benefit delays.

National parks and monuments

National Park Service officials have not updated their contingency plans for a government shutdown. During the 2018–2019 shutdown, most of the parks remained open but with very limited services and staffing. While visitors were able to visit many of the parks and landmarks during that shutdown, parks employees were furloughed so visitors faced mounting trash and uncleaned restrooms. 

The Smithsonian Institution

The various Smithsonian facilities use a combination of government and private funding to pay for operation of museums and activities. The agency has said that when those funds run out, the institution’s contingency plans would allow only those employees protecting life and property or engaging in shutdown operations or management to continue to work. Most of the institution's security, cleaning, maintenance and support staffs are funded with federal funds, and the institution would shut down its facilities to the public. In Washington, the Smithsonian operates 21 museums and the National Zoo.

The Smithsonian adopted a similar strategy in 2019, with prior-year funds used to keep facilities open for 11 days after the shutdown began. It gets about 62 percent of its funding from the U.S. government. 

What a Government Shutdown Means for Federal Workers

With more than 2 million workers, the federal government is the nation’s largest employer. Roughly a quarter of those employees are 55 and older, Politico reported. That means that many older workers — and the people who rely on the services they provide — would be affected by the government shutdown. 

During a shutdown, many — but not all — of those millions of workers would be furloughed, meaning they keep their jobs but are not allowed to work and won’t receive pay. During the partial government shutdown in 2018-2019, roughly 800,000 federal civilian employees were furloughed, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The federal employees who continue to work during a shutdown are called essential workers because they are considered vital to national security (the military and embassies), the safety of people and property (air traffic control, border control, food safety), and programs with multiyear funding (Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits). Still, because fewer federal employees overall would be working during a shutdown, there could be delays in customer service and support.

Each federal agency has its own plan for how many of its total workers and which positions in particular will be furloughed. Essential employees who are not furloughed still must go to work daily and do their job. But, like furloughed workers, these employees generally don’t get paid until Congress and the president approve the funding for their agency.

Once funding legislation is passed, both essential workers and furloughed employees typically receive back pay for pay periods missed during the shutdown. Federal contract workers usually do not receive back pay if they were idled.

During the shutdown, furloughed workers can apply for unemployment from their state agency and collect those benefits if they qualify. However, the unemployment benefits typically would have to be repaid once the furloughed employee returns to work and receives back pay.

Randy Lilleston, Andy Markowitz and Peter Urban contributed to this article.

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