Social Security benefits will remain uninterrupted even if the federal government experiences a shutdown next week. There is a growing likelihood that Congress will be unable to pass the 12 appropriation bills necessary to fund federal agencies before the commencement of the new fiscal year on October 1. Should this occur, numerous federal operations will grind to a temporary halt, resulting in the furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal workers.
Amid this uncertainty, numerous senior citizens have expressed their apprehensions regarding the potential disruption of their monthly Social Security payments. These payments are vital for covering essential expenses such as food, housing, and various other necessary items and services. In August, the Social Security Administration reported that over 66.7 million Americans were receiving Social Security benefits, with an average monthly payment of nearly $1,706.
Social Security Administration’s Contingency Plans
The reason these payments can continue uninterrupted is twofold: they fall under mandatory spending, and the funds are sourced from a dedicated trust fund. Jason Fichtner, Chief Economist at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former Acting Deputy Commissioner at the Social Security Administration, explained, “Social Security payments continue during a government shutdown.” He also noted that disability payments would not be affected.
Additionally, the agency’s field offices and call center will remain operational to provide assistance. Key activities, including benefit applications, appeal requests, and the issuance of original or replacement Social Security cards, will continue as outlined in the agency’s contingency plan from mid-August. The plan emphasizes the importance of maintaining critical direct-service operations and ensuring the accurate and timely distribution of benefits.
This approach marks a departure from the 1995 shutdown, during which the agency initially closed its field offices and call center, affecting its ability to process payments and handle pending claims and appeals. Nonetheless, in the event of a shutdown starting on October 1, some services, such as benefit verifications needed for assistance program applications and Medicare card replacements, may be temporarily suspended until the impasse is resolved.
Overall, the Social Security Administration anticipates furloughing only around 8,500 of its nearly 62,000 employees, as indicated in the contingency plan.
However, Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works, an advocacy group, pointed out that even after a shutdown ends, senior citizens could still experience indirect consequences. The agency’s staffing levels are currently at their lowest in decades, and a shutdown may encourage more employees to leave, given the lack of pay during the impasse. This could exacerbate the existing strain on customer service in the future.
This year’s concerns about receiving federal government payments are not new for senior citizens. Earlier this year, the U.S. faced the possibility of running out of funds to pay all its bills on time due to a dispute in Congress and the Biden administration over raising the debt ceiling. Such a situation could have led to delays in Social Security payments. Fortunately, lawmakers and the administration reached an agreement to raise the debt ceiling and averted a default.