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October 1, 2013

How Will the Government Shutdown Impact Older Adults?

5885982The federal government shut down today, and many are wondering how this will affect their federal benefits. The short answer is that for now, most Americans who rely on federal benefit payments will be unaffected. Spending on programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and benefits for retired federal employees will continue.

Here are a few more questions and answers about programs that affect many older adults:

Would a shutdown put the brakes on implementing the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare?" No. The state-run exchanges for the uninsured would open as scheduled Tuesday. "The marketplaces will be open on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there is a government shutdown," President Obama said Friday.

Why not? Like Social Security or Medicaid, Obamacare is a permanent entitlement that isn't subject to annual funding by Congress. "Many of the core parts of the health care law are funded through mandatory appropriations and wouldn't be affected," Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services Department official overseeing the health care rollout, said last week.

Would seniors continue to get Social Security benefits? Yes. Social Security is a mandatory spending program, and the people who send those checks would continue to work under a legal doctrine called "necessary implication."

Can I apply for Social Security benefits, appeal a denial of benefits, change my address or sign up for direct deposit? Yes.

Can I get a new or replacement Social Security card, benefit verification statement or earnings record correction? No.

Would the government continue to pay unemployment benefits? Yes. The Employment and Training Administration "will continue to provide essential functions, as occurred during the shutdown of 1995," according to the Department of Labor contingency plan.

Will I be able to get food stamps? Yes. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is funded through the Recovery Act and from funds that don't expire for another year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

What will happen to veterans receiving compensation for service- or combat-related wounds and injuries? The Department of Veterans Affairs said if the shutdown continues into late October, it will run out of money for compensation and pension checks to more than 3.6 million veterans who rely on the money to support themselves.

Will deceased veterans still be able to get a burial benefit? Yes. Burial benefits, headstones and death notices will still be available.

This Q&A was excerpted from the USA Today article, “66 questions and answers about the government shutdown.”  For a chart detailing the impact of the shutdown on various offices and functions, see “Government Shutdown: What’s Closed, What’s Open?” at CNN.

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