The longest United States shutdown of federal offices began December 22, 2018 and lasted 35 days. When annual budget disputes within the government hit news headlines, there are understandable concerns from seniors and individuals under the age of 65 who qualify for Medicare due to disability who rely on the continuity of their Social Security benefits.

What a Government Shutdown Means
The United States government’s fiscal year is October 1 through September 30. In the fall, the agencies of the government present budget requests to the Office of Management and Budget. OMB, the agency responsible for developing and monitoring the budget, sends the budget to the president. The president’s deadline to submit a budget to Congress is in February. Winter through summer, there are committee hearings, debates, resolutions and votes. October 1 is the approval deadline for all appropriation bills. If the bills are not signed into law by then, temporary funding may be arranged during continued debates, but there is a potential for non-essential programs to stop operations. This is known as a government shutdown.


While the term sounds ominous, and it does in fact cause an upset on many different levels, the impact is on discretionary funding. This is an important distinction because payments for Social Security benefits are considered mandatory, not discretionary, disbursed from a trust fund and officiated by prior acts of Congress.

History of Federal Government Shutdowns
In the Social Security History bulletin published by the SSA, the shutdown in 1995 was described as “one of the greatest challenges to its service reputation.” During the end of 1995 and 1996, the government shut down twice. Even then, the SSA assured the public that a plan was in place to retain enough staff to continue issuing SS and Supplemental Security Income payments to recipients already enrolled in the program. The fallout was on customer service access, applications for SS numbers, new applications for benefits and any pending appeal actions. The 2013 shutdown led to an announcement in the December issue of W-2 News that there would be a delay in wage reporting and processing files for the 2013 tax year. During the 2019 government shutdown, the SSA reassured beneficiaries that Social Security and SSI payments would continue as scheduled without disruption.

Looking to the Future

This annual budget process looms over us in September of every year. However, Social Security benefit recipients can take comfort in knowing the SSA has expressed commitment to continue benefits as usual. This should bring a sigh of relief to the millions of individuals who rely on Social Security benefits.

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