What happens to Social Security payments during a government shutdown?

A government shutdown could temporarily leave many of the nation’s 2 million federal workers without pay. But if you’re among the 68 million Americans receiving Social Security benefits, your monthly checks will continue, even if Congress doesn’t reach a deal to avoid a potential federal government shutdown by the March 22 deadline.

How the shutdown affects Social Security and Medicare

You will still receive your Social Security check if the government shuts down. You can still apply for benefits or make an appointment with Social Security if the government shuts down. If you rely on Medicare for health insurance, you can still go to the doctor even if the government shuts down.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t feel the effects of a government shutdown if you receive these benefits. We’ll cover some ways beneficiaries may feel the pain. But first, let’s discuss why Social Security and Medicare benefits will remain largely unaffected if lawmakers in Washington can’t reach a deal.

The public services affected by the closure are those that rely on discretionary spending. The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate must develop a budget each year to fund these federal agencies and programs. These programs represent approximately one third of the annual budget.

But Social Security is a mandatory spending program, as is Medicare, the federal health program for people age 65 and older and those with long-term disabilities. These programs are not subject to annual appropriations. Their financing is required by law.

Both Social Security and Medicare have a dedicated revenue stream: payroll taxes that take up 7.65% of most workers’ paychecks and that employers must match. Money paid into both of these entitlement programs is held in trust funds separate from the federal government’s general fund.

As a result, Social Security checks and Medicare benefits can continue even in the absence of a congressional spending agreement.

To know more: How a government shutdown would impact your money: student loans, Social Security, investments and more

What Social Security Recipients Can Expect During a Shutdown

If you receive Social Security benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your checks will be spent as usual if the federal government shuts down, according to the plan Social Security Administration emergency for fiscal year 2024.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) says you would still be able to do many of the same tasks during a shutdown that you normally do. For example, you will be able to:

  • Apply for benefits

  • Make appointments at the Social Security offices

  • Schedule a hearing to determine SSDI eligibility or request an appeal if your disability claim is denied

  • Change your address or direct deposit information

  • Apply for original or replacement Social Security cards

  • Request reinstatement of benefits

  • Report that you have not received a payment

However, an estimated 15% of the Social Security Administration workforce could be laid off in the event of a government shutdown. It is inevitable that this will have some effect on the beneficiaries. Here are some ways the shutdown could affect your beneficiaries.

  • You will not be able to receive a benefits verification, which is sometimes necessary if you are applying for a mortgage, loan, or government benefits.

  • You will not be able to correct your benefit or earnings record.

  • Social Security, which administers Medicare enrollment, will not be able to issue replacement Medicare cards.

You may experience longer wait times if you need to call Social Security customer service. However, many of the services that would be suspended do not directly affect the general public. For example, Social Security’s contingency plan lists IT upgrades, public relations and claims processing among the services it would temporarily disrupt.

How SSDI benefits are affected

Like Social Security retirement benefits, SSDI checks should not be stopped. However, if you are applying for disability benefits or are awaiting a decision on your claim, it is possible that a closure could delay the process.

When you apply for disability, it is sent to state disability determination services agencies that receive federal funding for review. Although the SSA states in its contingency plan that it would “encourage” these agencies to continue offering limited services in the event of a closure “with the understanding that we will reimburse the DDSs for their work once funding is received,” it cannot require the offices state to continue operations.

Considering it currently takes about seven months to process an initial disability claim, any disruption to a state DDS agency could add to an already large backlog.

How Medicare benefits are affected

If you receive Medicare, you will still be able to go to the doctor, go to the hospital, get medical care, and fill prescriptions, even though about 51% of the staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will likely be laid off. You will also be able to sign up for Medicare through the Social Security Administration, as usual.

Don’t be surprised if you experience longer wait times if you need to contact Medicare. A shutdown could also increase the time health care providers have to wait to get Medicare reimbursement.

What happened to Social Security during past shutdowns?

During the 20 government shutdowns since 1976, Social Security checks were done on time. Although Medicare applications suffered major disruptions during the 1995-96 shutdown, benefits and applications remained largely unchanged during the 2013 and 2019 shutdowns.

Bottom line: You don’t have to worry about your Social Security check or Medicare benefits being cut off by congressional infighting. These benefits are enshrined in law.

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