The US government warns of a potential shutdown that could leave millions of federal employees and military personnel working without pay. This impasse results from disagreements among Republicans on short-term funding, putting the economy at risk.

The US government has begun to inform workers of an impending shutdown that could see millions of federal employees and military personnel sent home or working without pay, unless Congress reaches a last-ditch deal.

Without an agreement, funding for much of the federal government will expire at midnight on Saturday, threatening disruptions to everything from air travel to some benefit payments, and, if the shutdown endures, dealing a further blow to the precarious US economy.

The stand-off has been triggered by a small group of hardline Republicans who have pushed back against short-term funding deals, with Congress in deadlock over calls for deep spending cuts.

US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks with reporters at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on September 26, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski, AFP)

Some federal employees have been informed of preparations for a lapse, according to a notice seen by AFP.

A note to staff at the Department of Health and Human Services outlined how it would see “reduced staffing across nearly every division for the duration of the lapse” although many key programs will continue.

The department also updated its contingency plans, adding that “pre-notified employees would be temporarily furloughed,” meaning they are not allowed to work. They would receive retroactive pay after the lapse ends, the note said.

In a shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed without pay, and members of the military and other employees who are deemed to be essential would continue working without a paycheck.

Certain benefits like Social Security checks would not be hit, but workers who go unpaid could eventually stop showing up, impacting sectors like air travel.

In a full shutdown, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union estimates almost 1.8 million federal workers would go unpaid for the duration.

Katrine Dige Houmøller, with AFP