Understandably, many people in the US are concerned about the effects of a government shutdown. In recent months, we have experienced the longest shutdown in the history of the US government, and signs indicate that we may experience another comparable closure. As a law firm that focuses on social security matters here in Cincinnati, we have received many questions about the government shutdown and how it may affect claims and payments.
So, what happens with payments from Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare during these shutdowns?
Claims and Payments During A Shutdown
As Nicole Goodkind reports in Newsweek, these programs do not stop during a shutdown. Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are all categorized as “mandatory spending,” and therefore continue unabated during these types of budget battles.
Where people could experience a delay is in the processing of new Social Security applications. But existing accounts continue to receive their funding, and checks continue to go out on their usual schedules. These shutdowns do not affect the U.S. Postal Service either, so checks should circulate on their usual delivery schedules as well.
No New Cards
New Social Security cards will not be issued during these times, however, as some Social Security Administration employees are usually furloughed. This will likely cause delays in benefit verification as well. It will increase wait times at the offices, and cause delays for those calling in to request service over the phone and ask questions of SSA staffers.
In the most recent shutdown, more than 750,000 federal employees were impacted. More than half of those employees were expected to continue working without receiving paychecks, while the rest were furloughed. The furlough is, in essence, a temporary layoff.
During previous shutdowns, some Social Security Administration employees were furloughed, and did not come into work. This time, however, the furlough did not impact SSA employees, and all offices continued to be open during the lengthy shutdown.
When there is a “lapse in appropriations,” as some government websites describe a shutdown, funding for Social Security checks is planned to go on without interruption. “Funding for the programs under Titles II, XVI, and XVIII of the Social Security Act will continue,” as it reads on the Social Security Administration’s website.
Funding that is designed to be long-term, such as Social Security Administration benefits, should not ever be subject to delays or suspensions during a budget debate. The only types of funding that are jeopardized are “appropriations,” meaning funds that are approved by Congress each year. Social Security is a long-term investment in the form of a trust fund. Congress does not fund Social Security each year, as they do with appropriations.
Where Do The SS Benefits Come From?
Social Security benefits, along with Medicaid and Medicare, pull from long-term federal investments. The accounts which fuel those payments are built to be drawn out over decades. Whether or not the Social Security trust fund will sustain the changes in demographics the United States will see throughout the 21st century — as millions of people begin to qualify for Social Security payments without as large of a population entering the workforce — has been the subject of debate. But the fund itself is designed with a long arc, and is built to be sustainable regardless of appropriations delays.
Whether or not the government will be shut down again in 2019 has yet to be determined. The recent shutdown did not lead to Congressional approval of border wall funding. The Trump administration has indicated that the shutdown may resume, and perhaps for a longer period of time.