Many myths are circulating about the government shutdown. Some of the more prevalent ones are debunked here.
1. Government employees who are furloughed are "non-essential".
This statement is both incorrect in the legal and colloquial sense. The terms "essential" and "non-essential" originated from a 1980 Office of Personnel Management (OPM) memo that referred to employees who "conduct essential activities to the extent they protect life and property." Even in that memo, however, employees were referred to as "excepted" (excepted from furloughs) or "exempt" (not subject to budget appropriations). The employees who are now categorized as "excepted", however, are no just those protecting life and property. Software developers, passport handlers, social security workers, and many others are "excepted". These workers have little to do with protecting life and property but do have a strong constituency. Politicians therefore want to make sure that the employees, and the services they provide, are not hindered during a shutdown. Employees with a weaker constituency, such as IRS auditors, are "not excepted" though clearly they provide a valuable and essential role to the functioning of government.
2. Government employees will get paid regardless.
While the government does incur a debt to pay employees who work during the shutdown, employees are not paid until funding is restored. The same is true for members of the military. Congress did pass a law to pay the military during the shutdown but it has not, as of this writing, been signed by the President. Furloughed employees have historically been paid when funding is restored. This, however, requires an act of Congress. There is no guarantee that such an act would happen this time.
3. Government employees can collect unemployment.
Whether a federal employee can collect unemployment or not depends upon the state in which they reside and work. Each state has different requirements. Furthermore, if a furloughed employee does collect unemployment and Congress subsequently pays furloughed employees back pay, then the employee must return the unemployment money.
4. If federal workers really cared about their job they would just volunteer.
It is illegal for a furloughed employee to work while in a furlough status. This includes volunteer work. In fact, the law provides for penalties of up to $5,000 and 2 years in jail for any employee who does.
5. Employees will be working 4 hours on the first day of the shutdown.
On the first day of the shutdown, employees are allowed to perform up to 4 hours of work to conduct activities related to an orderly shutdown. No other work may be performed. There is also no guarantee that they will be paid for this work as they will be in a furlough status.
6. Applications delayed by the shutdown will only be delayed by the number of days of the shutdown.
Various applications, such as veterans benefits, loan applications, small business applications, etc., will not be processed during the shutdown. When funding is restored, these applications may not necessarily be processed in the order in which they are received. It depends upon the processing rules and personnel of the agency handling the application. Additionally, as applications are not processed, applicants sometimes send duplicate paperwork. This results in a bigger pile of claims for agencies to handle further delaying the process time. Other similar problems factor in which means that as the shutdown drags on, the time to process applications increases exponentially.