Does a Government Shutdown Affect Social Security Beneficiaries?

An act of Congress created America’s Social Security system in 1935. Originally, Social Security exclusively paid benefits to retired workers aged 65 and over. Eventually, Congress expanded the program so that spouses and minor children of workers and people affected by disability could also receive benefits.

What is a government shutdown?

The term “government shutdown” is somewhat misleading since the entire federal government never shuts down. Each year Congress has the responsibility to pass bills to fund federal government functions that rely on revenue from the general tax fund. A partial government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass bills that fund some portion of the government reliant on general tax money.

Government Shutdowns and Social Security

Federal government shutdowns should not affect Social Security beneficiaries. Social Security benefits are not paid from the general tax fund. Social Security payments for retirement and disability come from trust funds dedicated to those benefits. In addition, the federal government classifies retirement and disability payments from Social Security as mandatory spending. That means Social Security beneficiaries should always receive their payments during a government shutdown.

Historically, the Social Security Administration has fulfilled its obligation to send benefits during government shutdowns. There were extended government shutdowns in 1995 and 2013. In both cases, the agency had to furlough nonessential staff. However, enough employees were kept working to get payments in the mail in 1995. By 2013, the agency had shifted to electronic payments, however, some staff members had to be maintained to process those benefits. During the government shutdown that ended in January 2019, Social Security payments were not interrupted.

How to Become a Social Security Beneficiary

To be eligible for retirement benefits, you must be at least 62 years old. Eligibility for disability requires that you have recently worked in a job covered by Social Security. Also, your disability must be expected to make you unable to work for at least a year. You can apply for Social Security retirement and disability benefits online.