As Congress struggles to find a middle ground on its hotly-debated budget bill, there is a very real possibility that the continuing back-and-forth will have a negative effect on millions of Americans. If lawmakers are not able to reach an agreement by midnight tonight, the federal government will shut down for the first time in over 15 years. A shutdown will close federal buildings and monuments, slow federal services such as passport and tax refund issuing, and force many non-essential federal employees to go on unpaid furloughs.
This uncertainty has understandably caused many California Social Security Disability and Medicare recipients to panic, and rightly so. Many SSD recipients depend on their benefit payments for their livelihood, and a sudden halt of benefits would be disastrous. However, government officials have spoken out to reassure recipients: SSD and Medicare payments will not stop if the government goes into shutdown.
Because Social Security and Medicare are not funded by the spending bill being debated in Congress, the budget battle does not directly affect benefit payments. Therefore, recipients can continue to expect their regular benefit checks and health care coverage, even if there is a shutdown.
However, the shutdown may affect SSD in other ways. Because many federal employees, including Social Security Administration workers, will not be allowed to work in the event of a shutdown, the current record-long wait times for SSD applicants and new enrollees will only get worse. In addition, current recipients may not be able to contact an SSA employee if they have a question or need help with their benefits.
So even though SSD recipients will continue to collect benefit checks, a government shutdown will not be good for the program as a whole. Now it just remains to be seen whether Congress can strike a deal.
Source: Christian Science Monitor, "Government shutdown 101: Will Social Security and Medicare be affected?" Mark Trumbull, 8 April 2011