As the government shutdown wears on, many Americans who are on Social Security disability or retirement benefits are becoming increasingly worried. Shutdowns since 1980 have lasted, on average, five and a half days, making them of little concern to recipients; however, the current government shutdown is now the longest in our country’s history with over 800,000 employees furloughed, as President Trump and Congress struggle to reach an agreement that would reopen it.
This has many social security recipients wondering, “Will my Social Security benefits keep coming if the government remains shut down?” You can breathe a sigh of relief: the short answer is, “yes.” The Social Security Administration is already funded through September 2019, so services remain in effect and benefits checks will continue to arrive on time,.
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—except for those considered vital for preserving the safety and security of our country and its citizens.
As noted in the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s page about the Anti-Deficiency Act, it 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, entitled to backpay once the shutdown ends.
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.
A 2018 Social Security contingency plan memo spells this out quite clearly: “funding for the programs under Titles II, XVI, and XVIII of the Social Security Act will continue, even in the event of a lapse in appropriations.” SSDI is covered under Title II, and SSI under Title XVI as you can see on the SSA’s website. If you’re already on SSDI or retirement, then a government shutdown should not affect your benefit payments.
As the shutdown wears on, however, it’s possible that more employees will be put on furlough, disrupting some services such as processing new SSDI applications & appeals.
What Can You Do About a Government Shutdown?
At Disability Experts of Florida, we understand how important SSDI and SSI are to people, and we hope this has put some of your concerns to rest. Of course, we also hope a resolution is reached and America can get back to work again! If you’re concerned about this shutdown or future shutdowns, one of the best things you can do 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. Reach out and make your voice heard!