For many Americans who are on Social Security disability or retirement benefits, the current political climate can be worrying. In recent years, we’ve seen one of the most severely divided Congresses in living memory.
In fact, not very long ago, we saw Congress grind to a halt and enter a shutdown because of severe factionalism that blocked the approval of an operating budget—closing down many governmental services.
Which has many people wondering: “Will my Social Security benefits continue if the government shuts down?” The answer is, “most likely, but some services may be affected.”
What Happens During a Government Shutdown?
The U.S. Constitution requires spending by the government to be approved in bills passed by Congress. If Congress cannot pass a bill, many services will be interrupted—save for ones deemed vital for preserving the safety and security of the country and its citizens.
As noted in the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s page about the Antideficiency Act, the Act prohibits federal employees from “involving the government in any obligation to pay money before funds have been appropriated for that purpose, unless otherwise allowed by law.”
When the government shuts down, government employees are put on furlough until the funding can be secured to pay them. Only those employees considered absolutely critical to maintaining necessary services and infrastructure are excepted from the furlough—and usually without a guarantee of pay.
How Does This Affect Social Security?
Social Security is different from other government programs such as the National Park Service in that it is partially self-funded. The money that’s used to pay Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and retirement checks doesn’t come from the general taxes—it comes from the Social Security Trust which is funded by an income deduction from American workers’ paychecks.
So, if you’re already on SSDI or retirement, then a government shutdown probably won’t affect your benefit payments.
However, the Social Security Administration may be forced to put the majority of their employees on furlough until the shutdown is resolved. This can end up disrupting some services, such as processing SSDI applications & appeals.
A government shutdown tends to be short, generally lasting only a few days. The longest shutdown of the American government on record happened in the 90s—lasting 21 consecutive days.
However, a long enough a shutdown could have severe, long-term consequences for all government services that can be hard to predict accurately.
What Can You Do About a Government Shutdown?
One of the best things anyone can do to prevent a government shutdown is to reach out to your Senators and Representatives and remind them how a government shutdown affects their constituents. Advocacy groups can help organize hundreds or even thousands of members to increase their collective impact.
Although a government shutdown might not directly affect you if you’re already receiving benefits, there are many more consequences that can have an indirect impact. If you’re worried about a potential shutdown, reach out and make your voice heard!