How do you bounce back from the longest government shutdown in US history — especially when that reprieve may only be temporary?
After 35 days of sticking to his demands for $5 billion to fund his “big, beautiful” border wall, President Donald Trump caved on Friday and agreed to sign a continuing resolution that will reopen the federal government through February 15.
That gives congressional leaders just over three weeks to hammer out a long-term solution, and as Vox’s Dylan Scott outlines, the four possible scenarios are daunting: Trump and congressional Democrats could reach a compromise on immigration that satisfies both parties, but that’s optimistic. More likely, the fight will drag on, leading to even more shutdown possibilities, or lawmakers will pass a continuing resolution that would make this entire standoff all for nothing (with or without an emergency declaration).
And though the government is technically open again, the work now falls to federal officials to sort out the logistics to bring their agencies up to fully operational levels. Roughly a quarter of the federal government was affected directly by the shutdown. Some agencies have limped along with a skeleton staff for more than a month; other offices have been shuttered entirely.
Here’s how some of the most affected groups are starting to rebuild — even as they stare down the possibility that they may have to do this all over again.
Furloughed workers are getting paid — but that doesn’t help everyone
Roughly 800,000 federal workers received IOUs instead of actual paychecks for the past two pay periods. But if everything goes to plan, they should be getting their money as soon as possible, which will likely be around the middle of next week.
Congress agreed on a bill to provide back pay for federal workers — both for this latest closure and for any future government shutdowns to come — and Trump signed it into law last week.
Federal contractors, however, are being left behind. Everyone from janitors at federal buildings to the security guards and cafeteria workers is excluded from the back pay guarantee. It’s just yet another example of how low-wage workers have shouldered the heaviest burdens of the partial government shutdown, and how they have little recourse to get back the work hours and money they deserve.
Aviation workers helped spur the government reopening. They’re hopeful — but not entirely optimistic — that it will stay that way.
Air traffic controllers — who went unpaid but were required to show up to work during the shutdown — were seemingly the tipping point to end the impasse after low staffing levels triggered airport delays across the country. LaGuardia Airport in New York, one of the busiest airports in the US, was forced to halt all incoming flights for 90 minutes on Friday because too many air traffic controllers had called in sick that day and there weren’t enough employees to safely land the planes. This caused a cascade of delays across the East Coast; hours later Trump announced that he agreed to a temporary stopgap for government funding.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports that flights are now departing on schedule at airports across the country. And though unions representing air traffic controllers and flight crews have expressed relief that their members will get paid once again, they’re pressuring lawmakers to come up with a long-term solution that extends beyond the funding deadline next month.
“The constant funding crises that arise from stop-and-go funding continue to wreak havoc on our system and perpetuate the current staffing crisis, which has resulted in a 30-year low of certified professional controllers,” Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the controllers’ union, said in a statement.
IRS backlogs may delay tax refunds
Tax season officially kicks off on Monday, but it’s unclear whether the IRS will be able to make up for 35 days of preparation time that was lost to Trump’s border wall gambit.
As Vox’s German Lopez reported during the shutdown, the IRS retained around 46,000 workers, or 57.4 percent its workforce. This allowed employees to prepare for sending out tax refunds, even as they worked without pay, with the hope that federal closures wouldn’t cause significant delays.
Now it appears there is quite a backlog for IRS employees to wade through. The American Institute of CPAs, which represents tax preparers, wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig that their members are concerned about the ripple effect of delays to online services.
“Without a shutdown, it often takes multiple contacts with the IRS to resolve a situation,” the letter read. “We expect tremendous additional time to work with the IRS on correspondence once the shutdown ends.”
Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are taking a few days to open their doors again
Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will begin accepting new visitors on Tuesday. All 21 institutions under the Smithsonian umbrella, along with the National Zoo, have been closed since New Year’s, when reserve funding ran out. This meant the museums were closed during what’s typically a busy holiday season.
According to the Washington Post, the Smithsonian reported losing about $1.5 million in revenue during the first 10 days of closures. And for every additional week after that, the institutions reportedly lost $1 million from side income, for everything from food and beverage sales to IMAX theater tickets to parking fees.
The shutdown has already caused lasting damage
As some agencies scramble to bring operation levels back up to 100 percent, others must deal with ill effects that may linger for weeks, if not indefinitely.
Civil and immigrant courts were frozen on ice; cases that were postponed may not be addressed for weeks or, in some instances, for years. National parks in some regions were destroyed, with human waste overflowing trash cans and outright vandalism that will only add to an $11 billion maintenance backlog. The shutdown significantly hindered economic growth, undercut basic needs for Native American tribes, jeopardized food safety, and made life unnecessarily difficult for America’s most vulnerable communities.
The list of damages goes on and on. Vox’s Nicole Fallert found at least 35 ways the shutdown adversely affected everyday Americans.
But despite the real-world consequences, there’s a chance we might find ourselves in the exact same bind in just three weeks. Only this time, each agency’s funding lapse would just be compounding the laundry list of damages that are just beginning to be fixed.