Government Shutdown: What Social Security and Veterans Benefits Clients Should Expect

With the federal government hurtling toward a shutdown, Social Security disability (SSD) and veterans benefits clients likely wonder how it will affect their cases and payments. The good news is that SSD recipients should continue receiving any payments owed to them and any pending cases should proceed. However, some delays may occur due to worker furloughs. 

The Shutdown Explained  

The shutdown involves appropriations for nine federal departments that receive funds annually appropriated by Congress—Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury. 

Currently those departments are unfunded as of midnight December 22. Congress believed they had reached a compromise on a stopgap measure, but President Donald Trump refused to sign it. Trump wants any spending measure to earmark $5 billion to fund a border wall—a proposition that lacks sufficient support in the Senate. 

Without a last-minute deal, funding will run out for the nine listed departments. Most importantly, the shutdown will trigger furloughs of federal workers. The New York Times estimates that as many as 380,000 federal employees will be furloughed and another 420,000, who are deemed “essential,” will have to work without pay.  

SSA & VA Still Open for Business, Delays Possible 

Only about a quarter of the entire federal government will be affected by the shutdown. Earlier this year, Congress passed five spending bills for sustained long-term expenditures. Those bills funded the Departments of Labor, Energy, Defense, Health and Human Services and Education and Veterans Affairs.  

The Department of Health and Human Services contains the Social Security Administration. In addition, the Social Security trust fund is paid for through a combination of taxes and long-term investments.  

Likewise, the Veteran’s Administration is funded by non-annual appropriations. 

 In preparation for a shutdown, the SSA has released a contingency plan. According to the plan, most core programs and benefits should continue. SSD and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits checks will go out as before. Also, disability claims and appeals should proceed. Hearing offices will remain open and previously scheduled hearings should be held.  

The VA also has a contingency plan, under which disability, survivor and retiree benefits payments should continue.  

The SSA’s plan acknowledges that while it is mostly funded, approximately 53,000 workers will still be furloughed. The VA estimates in its plan that almost 16,000 workers could be furloughed. 

 Thus, delays in scheduling of hearings and handing down of decisions and processing are possible. During the 2013 government shutdown, while SSDI and SSI hearings were scheduled and held, a backlog in written decisions occurred.  

Pond Lehocky’s lawyers and staff will continue monitor the situation and notify clients of any effects on their cases. If you have any questions, please contact your attorney team. 

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