Explaining the Shutdown to Your Kids

Don't worry kids, it's just the government

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Hey kids, we know all this talk about the government shutting down is confusing. We’re here to help explain what’s going on.

You’ve probably seen all kinds of families — your own family or a friend’s or a neighbor’s — get money from the government, pay taxes to the government or complain about how the government won’t let them do this or that. And you may have a lot of questions about what happens — or doesn’t happen — when the government shuts down, as it may on Tuesday.

Like, what happens to firemen and policemen who get paid by the government? Will garbage men still come to pick up the stinky trash on your street? Will mommies and daddies who work for the government be in the mood to buy you new Legos? And what is a government shutdown anyway?

A good way to think about the situation right now is this: the federal government runs on money like a car runs on gas. Lawmakers couldn’t agree on where to go or which route to take, so they ended up driving in circles and reading Dr. Seuss books to each other until they ran out of fuel. Some parts of the car will still operate without gas, but many won’t.

If the government shuts down, the most important things will still get done. Soldiers and other members of the military who help protect America will still keep us safe. The Post Office will still deliver letters. Air traffic controllers will still help planes land safely at airports. And your old or disabled relatives who get things called “Social Security checks” will still have money for bingo.

But many services will stop. The government won’t issue as many documents that allow foreign people to visit our country, poor people might not get food stamps to buy groceries, and governments scientists won’t be monitoring the spread of disease. Places that belong to the federal government, like national parks, will have to close during the shutdown. So that long car trip to Yosemite that your family was planning next weekend may be off.

Many government workers, like public school teachers and firemen and police officers, are paid by local governments or state governments. If the federal government shuts down, it shouldn’t affect their jobs. You will still go to school (unless you’re part of a program like Head Start that depends on grant money from Washington). The policemen in your town will still look for bad guys and firemen will still put out fires. But many federal government employees won’t be going to work.

There are two types of mommies and daddies who work for the federal government and might be affected by the shutdown: non-essential and essential workers. Essential workers are like the ice cream in a ice cream sundae; non-essential workers are like the toppings — great to have but not the most important ingredients. The toppings people will be told to stay home from work and may be grumpy because it’s unclear whether they will get paid; many may act like your uncle when he’s had too much “silly juice.” The ice cream people, like the President and members of Congress, will still go to work.

The government has shut down many times before, so don’t worry too much. One time in the year 1995, the federal government was closed for 21 days. Eventually lawmakers should come to a compromise that gets the car back on the road.

But just to be on the safe side, you should probably get those requests for new Legos in now.