Don't worry, senior citizens. You'll still get your Social Security checks if the federal government shuts down next week.
It's looking increasingly likely that Congress will not be able to pass the 12 appropriation bills that fund federal agencies before the new fiscal year starts on October 1. If that happens, many federal operations will come to a halt and hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be furloughed.
Many senior citizens have written to CNN about their concerns of losing the monthly Social Security payments that they depend on to buy food, pay for housing and afford other essential items and services.
More than 66.7 million Americans were receiving Social Security checks as of August, according to the Social Security Administration. The average monthly benefit was nearly $1,706.
The reason the payments can continue to be made is because they are mandatory spending and because the money comes from a trust fund, said Jason Fichtner, chief economist at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former acting deputy commissioner at the Social Security Administration.
"The bottom line is Social Security payments still go out even during a government shutdown," he said, noting that disability payments will also continue being disbursed.
The agency's field offices and call center will also remain open for assistance. Activities that will continue include applications for benefits, requests for appeals and issuance of original or replacement Social Security cards, according to the agency's contingency plan from mid-August.
"We will continue activities critical to our direct-service operations and those needed to ensure accurate and timely payment of benefits," the agency said in its contingency plan.
This is a change from the 1995 shutdown, when the agency's field offices and call center closed initially, and its ability to mail accurate payments and process pending claims and appeals were affected.
However, if there is a shutdown starting October 1, some services will be temporarily suspended until the impasse is over. These include benefit verifications, which recipients often need when applying for assistance programs, and the replacing of Medicare cards, the agency said.
Overall, the Social Security Administration would furlough only about 8,500 of its nearly 62,000 workers, according to the contingency plan.
Still, senior citizens may feel an indirect impact of a shutdown even after it ends, said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, an advocacy group. Staffing at the agency is the lowest it's been in decades, and a shutdown may prompt even more people to leave since federal workers are not paid during the impasse. This could further affect already strained customer service in the future, she said.
This is the second time this year that senior citizens have been worried about receiving their monthly payments from the federal government.
The US came close to running out of money to pay all its bills on time and in full this spring while Congress and the Biden administration battled over raising the debt ceiling. That could have resulted in delays in Social Security payments.
Lawmakers and the administration reached a deal to raise the debt ceiling and averted a default.
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