What happens next? Questions about the shutdown

Congress wants to see acting Interior secretary’s calendar
Bob Kovach/CNN

The government is finally open — at least for now.

On the same day major airports experienced significant flight delays and hundreds of thousands of federal workers missed their second paycheck, President Donald Trump on Friday announced a deal to reopen parts of the government temporarily.

So, what happens next? We’ve got some answers.

How long is the government opening for?

Three weeks.

The President announced the White House had reached an agreement with lawmakers to fund the affected government agencies — about 25% of federal operations — through February 15. Congress approved the deal, and Trump on Friday signed the short-term spending bill into law. (Lawmakers already had separately funded the other three-quarters of the federal government through September.)

The latest deal includes no money for a wall along the US-Mexico border, meaning it’s the same agreement Trump could have inked more than a month ago.

What happens after three weeks?

Democrats and Republicans will continue to discuss border security, and lawmakers have three weeks to reach an agreement that satisfies Trump’s request for funding a border wall.

If that doesn’t happen, the President could declare a national emergency along the southern border and direct the Defense Department to construct a wall, possibly using $7 billion identified for this purpose by his aides.

Or, the government will shut down again on February 16 — taking us right back to where we started.

“Let me be very clear,” Trump said in a speech Friday. “We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier.”

When are employees expected back at work?

Given that the government reopened Friday evening, most furloughed employees are expected to report back to work on their next scheduled work day. Workers should refer to their own agencies for more information.

What’s happening at the airports?

Flight delays at airports on Friday played an important role in Trump’s decision to back down, at least for now, from his demand for wall funding and to reopen the government, a White House official said.

Now that the government is fully open, delays that cropped up throughout the 35-day shutdown may ease up a bit. Air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration employees know they’ll get paid soon, so there will likely be a lot fewer unscheduled absences.

But don’t expect everything to get back to normal just yet. For starters, it’ll likely be a few days before air traffic controllers, who work for the Federal Aviation Administration, and TSA employees are paid, meaning many may still be feeling financial strain.

Also, the Oklahoma City training academy for air traffic controllers was closed during the shutdown, meaning chronic understaffing of employees who do routine tasks didn’t ease at all during that time.

And because the spending bill only offers a temporary solution, there’s a chance that employees might be sick of the uncertainty and decide to find other jobs.

What’s the situation with weather forecasting?

The government shutdown made the US more vulnerable to the upcoming hurricane season.

Forecasters and researchers use the off-season to refine and improve storm-predicting models, methods and techniques. But during the shutdown, much of that work came to a halt.

Even though the government is open again, the shutdown set forecasters back.

“This is lost time that cannot be made up,” Suru Saha, a computer modeler who was furloughed, told CNN. “It’s gone, and it will affect future operations.”

Can I finally plan that family trip to visit the Smithsonian museums?

Yes. The Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will reopen starting Tuesday at their regularly scheduled times.

But the shutdown hit the 173-year-old institution hard. The Smithsonian lost about $1 million each week of the partial government shutdown.

Are the national parks open?

It depends.

About a third of the national parks, like Fort McHenry in Baltimore and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, were completely closed for the entire shutdown. Those parks will open as soon as they’re told by Interior Department officials to do so, said Kristen Brengel of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Parks that stayed open but experienced significant damage, like California’s Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park, might leave some areas closed to the public for repair or cleanup.

Other parks, like Mount Rainier in Washington state, weren’t maintained at all while the government was shut down. That means there’s significant work to do before they’re ready for public visitors again.

In short, check the websites and social media accounts of the national parks before you plan a visit. Now that the government is open again, those accounts and websites are being actively maintained.

When will federal workers get paid?

Both chambers of Congress passed legislation to guarantee back pay for affected federal workers, and Trump signed it last week. But it will likely be at least several days before employees get paid.

Workers need to file time cards, agencies must sign off on them and payroll centers must process payments. The timing varies by agency.

US Coast Guard officials expect it to take three to five business days to process pay and benefits, a spokesperson said. But back pay may take as long as 10 days to land for employees in 31 departments who are represented by the National Treasury Employees Union, the group’s president said.

Payment delays put further strain on federal workers, many of whom have dwindling funds in their bank accounts and are now expected back at work.

Are contractors getting back pay?

The government shutdown was particularly hard on contract employees, including many who work low-wage jobs, like janitors and cafeteria workers.

Contractors aren’t guaranteed back pay, and whether they get paid for the past month is up to their employers.

Some Democratic senators have introduced legislation to ensure low-wage federal contractors get back pay. A similar House bill stalled in 2017.

Will charities that were aiding federal workers keep up the help?

Some will.

Renowned chef José Andrés and his nonprofit have served free meals to thousands of federal employees across the country. Though the government is open now, Andrés announced on Twitter that his team will continue to provide meals through next week since employees still haven’t gotten paid.

Pop-up donation centers in New York City will stay open through February 7 for people to give food and other essentials to employees affected by the shutdown. The centers are run by Food Bank for New York City in partnership with three New York officials.

And a donation site for nonperishable food items for government workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will stay open through Friday.