When the federal government shuts down, as it did over the weekend, the resulting uncertainty and confusion impinge on many areas of life, including travel. With hundreds of thousands of government workers thrown out of work, how will essential services be affected?
As we go to press on Monday morning, a Senate vote is imminent on a short-term spending package that would keep government services funded through February 8. If passed by the Senate, the House would also have to approve the measure before the government can resume operating normally. But that’s just a temporary fix, that may or may not be extended, leaving open the possibility of yet another shutdown.
On a positive note, workers whose jobs are considered “essential” will not be furloughed, although they won’t receive paychecks until the government is back in operation.
In the travel sphere, essential workers include air traffic controllers, Customs and Border Protection agents, and Transportation Security Administration personnel. That means that commercial air travel should remain mostly unaffected.
On the other hand, such non-essential services as passport and visa processing will only continue until the money runs out, according to the State Department.
National parks and historic monuments are a mixed bag. While most parks remain open, rangers and other federal employees won’t be working, and visitor centers and full-service restrooms will be closed.
Many landmarks, like Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, are closed, but New York has committed to underwriting the costs to keep the Statue of Liberty open to the public, and the state of Arizona is doing the same for the Grand Canyon.
Amtrak, the government-subsidized train service, will operate normally.
The last government shutdown, in 2013, lasted more than two weeks, during which more than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed. The economic impact of that event has been estimated at a $24 billion loss to the economy. That’s a big number, but in the context of a $20 trillion national economy, it’s not much more than a rounding error.
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.