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Robert Longley

Government Benefits During a Shutdown

By September 30, 2013

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If Congress fails to act today by passing a compromise spending resolution preventing a government shutdown, how will key federal benefit programs be affected? In some cases, the longer it lasts, the worse it gets.

The one sure thing about government shutdowns is that there are no sure things about government shutdowns. But based on history, the laws of the federal budget and statements of the agencies involved, the following impacts are likely:

Social Security Benefits

Social Security checks will continue to go out. Since Social Security is a mandatory spending program, the employees who process benefit checks are considered "essential employees" under the Antideficiency Act and will continue to work during the shutdown. In addition, since most Social Security benefits are now paid by direct deposit, fewer federal workers are now required to process them.

You will be able to apply for Social Security benefits, appeal denials of benefits, change your address and sign up for direct deposit.

You will not be able to get a new or replacement Social Security card, benefit verification letters or record of earnings corrections.

Veterans Benefits

After first saying it would have no effect, the Veterans Administration now says that if the shutdown lasts beyond October 15, it will run out of money to pay veteran's compensation and pension benefits. This would disrupt compensation payments to more than 3.6 million veterans - including those with service- or combat-related wounds, injuries and health conditions.

Unemployment Compensation

The federal Employment and Training Administration has stated that it will continue to operate normally under Department of Labor contingency plans established during the 21-day shutdown in 1995. No delays to unemployment compensation payments are anticipated.

Food Stamps and Nutrition

You will be able to apply for and use food stamps. Currently provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) does no expire until October of next year, according to the USDA.

The USDA has estimated that funds used to provide meals under the federal school lunch program could run out if the shutdown continues beyond October 31.

The WIC -- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program - will have no money to pay its federal administrative costs during the shutdown, but the various states may have the funds needed to keep the program running.

Other Government Services

The U.S. Postal Service, since it is not really a government agency, will continue mail delivery and all other services normally.

All national parks will be closed. Visitors already in the parks will be told to leave and the entrances will be locked. Most national historic sites and monuments that do not charge for admittance will probably be closed.

The IRS will continue to process tax payments, which you of course, will continue to be required to make. However, tax refunds may be delayed and all IRS in-person assistance centers and telephone help lines will be closed. But rejoice a little, because the IRS will suspend all tax audit activities during the shutdown.

And last, but not least, like other federal employees deemed to be essential to ensuring "national security, public safety, and health and welfare," all 535 members of the U.S. Congress will be paid as usual.

Also See: Key Functions Continue During a Government Shutdown

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