The quick answer: Don’t panic. Social Security Administration (SSA) and Medicare checks will continue to be mailed even when — and if — the rest of the federal government stops getting its funding from Congress due to shutdown induced by inaction by House GOP leadership.
“We will continue activities critical to our direct-service operations and those needed to ensure accurate and timely payment of benefits,” SSA stated in an Aug. 14 letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on its shutdown contingency plans.
“Other services that SSA said it plans to continue include application for benefits, requests for appeals, payee changes, direct contact reinstatement of benefits, issuance of original and replacement Social Security cards, initial claims, and assistance requests for hearings.”
Since Social Security and Medicare are funded by a separate pot of money from Congressional appropriations, they are safe for now.
This doesn’t mean, though, that Social Security Administration will be at full staffing during a shutdown. The agency stated that:
- SSA will retain some 53,000 workers for the time being while many of the 1 million other federal workers may be furloughed or asked to work without pay.
- Services related to payment of benefits will be operational: “We will continue activities critical to our direct-service operations and those needed to ensure accurate and timely payment of benefits.”
- Other services, however, may be suspended: “We will cease activities not directly related to the accurate and timely payment of benefits or not critical to our direct-service operations.”
“Social Security and Medicare will continue to process new applications for benefits,” observes RetirementRevised newsletter.
And “the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) for Medicare will not be affected. The AEP runs from October 15th through December 7th, and provides an opportunity for Medicare enrollees to make new coverage elections. (I’ll be writing more about the AEP next month.)”
As with anything connected with unnecessary government shutdowns, though, there are lots of flies in the ointment.
“Announcement of the 2024 Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) could be delayed,” RetirementRevised notes.
“The COLA is scheduled to be announced on October 12th after the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases Consumer Price Index figures for the month of September. If BLS staff are furloughed at that time, it’s likely that the COLA news will be delayed. Currently, it looks like the COLA will be around 3% or a bit higher. Payment of the COLA is scheduled to start in January.”
Additionally, more service cutbacks could be pending if the shutdown continues:
Medicare/Medicaid (CMS) “call center operations would continue, but outreach and communications could be impaired as much of the CMS staff that oversee these operations would be furloughed. For example, CMS regional staff who support people with Medicare when problems arise and who conduct outreach activities for people with Medicare, health care providers, and other health care stakeholders would be mostly furloughed, according to an agency spokesperson.”
And if you’re in line for a Social Security Disability hearing? Again, you’ll probably need to bide your time. “Social Security disability benefit hearings and appeals would slow down or halt, adding to the already-huge backlog of people awaiting benefit decisions.”
The bottom line: Don’t expect full, rapid service on Social Security and Medicare issues. More than 66 million Americans who rely upon these services, but it remains to be seen how will they will be served if the shutdown is prolonged.
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