How do government shutdowns affect SSDI applications and benefits?

Government Shutdown and SSDIGovernment shutdowns impact how Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applications are processed, and benefit payments are issued. The prospect of a government shutdown has many Americans understandably worried. Under a shutdown, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may furlough as much as 15 percent of its staff. As a result, people applying for benefits may feel stressed, confused, and uncertain about what will happen next. The good news is that Social Security is considered an essential service. As such, it will continue to operate during a government shutdown with reduced service. 

Continue Receiving Existing SSDI Benefit Payments

If you already receive SSDI benefits, you will continue to get them during a government shutdown. The monthly payment schedule remains the same. This is true for both SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There will be no interruption to SSDI benefit payments. 

The main reason for government shutdowns is how funding is distributed. The government outlines annual appropriations for many projects and services. However, Social Security is funded through permanent appropriations. As such, SSDI checks will continue to go out each month if the government does shut down. Your payments are secure. 

Delay Benefit Calculations and Adjustments 

Existing SSDI benefit payments will continue to go out. Many other services will continue to be offered at Social Security field offices. You can still change your address or direct deposit information. The office will still accept reports of death or verify your citizenship status. A government shutdown may delay functions relating to benefit calculations and adjustments. 

For example, if you are waiting for retroactive benefits or back pay, your calculation may be delayed. Even if the SSA has approved your SSDI application, it still needs to calculate this lump sum payment. With reduced staff due to the government shutdown, this can take even longer than usual. 

Delay Processing of SSDI Applications

During a government shutdown, the SSA will still accept SSDI applications. Your disability application goes through several hands before you are approved for benefits. Because of the lower capacity, you can expect delays in how long it takes for them to process your application. Even under normal circumstances, there is a five-month waiting period.

This includes not only your initial application but also any related paperwork. It may take longer before the SSA requests a consultative exam, for instance. These delays can also impact the processing of appeal requests. You may still get a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), but that could take longer, too. 

Longer Wait Times to Receive a Decision

With reduced staff, the application backlog is increased. The same number of people are applying for SSDI, but there are fewer people processing these applications. There aren’t as many people evaluating the claims to see if applicants qualify for benefits. As a result, the wait for a Social Security disability decision also gets longer. 

The same applies to the appeals process. You do not get a hearing decision from the ALJ the same day. Rather, they draft up a written decision that’s about ten pages long. They then mail a copy of this written decision to the applicant and their attorney. Typically, it is not until 30 to 60 days after the hearing that the claimant receives this decision letter. With a government shutdown, it could be even longer. 

Reduce Availability of Customer Support

In light of longer wait times due to a government shutdown, SSDI claimants may grow increasingly anxious about the status of their applications. It’s not just the staff who process the claims who may be furloughed and whose service is reduced. This also extends to customer support. When you inquire about a status update on your application, they may take longer to respond to that request. 

During a government shutdown, the SSA may suspend certain services altogether. It’s expected that they will not issue any new or replacement Social Security cards. They also won’t replace your Medicare card. The SSA also will not issue a proof of letter income, which you may need for housing assistance or loan applications. However, you can sign into your account online and download a PDF of the benefit letter directly. 

Risk Losing Medicaid Benefits

While not directly part of Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicaid and Medicare are invaluable programs for many SSDI and SSI recipients. The SSA manages both of these programs. 

Currently, millions of Medicaid beneficiaries need to renew their eligibility. By some estimates, as many as three-quarters of people on Medicaid may lose coverage for procedural reasons. A government shutdown could dramatically impact this renewal process. It could delay people’s ability to get the medical coverage they need. 

Postpone Policy Updates and Other Changes

At any given time, there may be proposed changes to Social Security programs. The SSA may be considering policy updates that affect beneficiaries. For example, they may propose updates to the trial work period or the Ticket to Work program. Changes like these can directly impact anyone who receives SSDI or SSI benefits.

With a government shutdown, any policy updates would have to be paused. They would be considered non-essential services. Their possible implementation would be postponed until the government is back up and running again. 

Let Keefe Disability Law Guide the Way

Navigating the SSDI application process can be confusing enough as it is. The possibility of a government shutdown only adds to this stress and anxiety. With the experienced insight of skilled attorneys John Keefe and Patrick Hartwig, we can put your mind at ease. 

As one client points out, we take the time to “explain everything in a simple and yet detailed manner.” At Keefe Disability Law, we pride ourselves in treating every client with the dignity and respect they deserve. When you come to us, we work diligently to fast-track your SSDI claim to the best of our ability. We review your application to ensure it is as complete and as compelling as possible, striving to avoid any possible delays or impediments. 

Government shutdowns can create an air of uncertainty. But you can be certain that Keefe Disability Law will always be by your side every step of the way.

Patrick Hartwig
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Managing Attorney, Keefe Disability Law