Social Security Disability During a Government Shutdown

As 2017 ended and another year began we found ourselves watching congress fight over the federal budget to the point of months without a finalized budget, a series of temporary continuing resolutions and at least one relatively short partial government shutdown and the possibility of future shutdowns to come. Many people are wondering what happens if the government is shut down and whether they will be paid Social Security disability benefits during a time when the government is far less than fully operational.

SSDI and SSI Benefits During A Government Shutdown

Boston SSDI Cases While people often use the term government shutdown, what we really have is a partial government shutdown. This means while most federal employees will be on a furlough, others will be required to work as they are considered essential employees. This may sound like good news for those employees still on the job, but since they do not get paid until after the government reopens, it’s not all great news. These essential employees work on essential functions and this includes the military and some aspects of the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). 

During a time when our government is closed, SSA will continue to pay Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits which have already  been awarded. They will not however process new applications and adjudicate appeals as discussed in a recent news article from Business Insider.  The government will still be able to pay benefits which have already been awarded for Medicaid and Medicare, and SSA will still pay benefits from the Old Age and Retirement benefits program.

Boston Social Security Disability Benefits Application Problems During Government Shutdown

As discussed above, the SSA is not authorized to process new applications or appeals during a government shutdown. In the event employees of SSA volunteered to work without pay, they would be prohibited from doing so, because it is illegal for a so-called non-essential government agency to operate without an allocation of funding from congress. The reason for this is due to a rather obscure federal law known as the Antideficiency Act which was passed in 1884 as explained by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).  While this may sound antiquated, and somewhat ridiculous, GAO maintains it is still in effect and enforceable. If a federal employee is found to be in violation of this act, their employing agency must submit a violation report and the employee can be subject to administrative discipline including termination and even sent to prison.

As our Boston Social Security Disability Insurance benefits attorneys can explain, the application process is already long enough without the issue of a partial government shutdown.  The average time for a claimant to receive benefits after filing an application is around two years and the wait only seems to be getting longer.  There are various reasons for this, but they all basically come down to SSA not having enough money to pay all valid claims for benefits, and not having sufficient staff to process applications, so they essentially save money by denying qualified applicants and making it take as long as possible for benefits to be paid, if they are ever paid.

The situation is even worse for those who do not have an experienced Boston disability benefits attorney representing them during the long process. There is however, no reason any disabled American who is applying for benefits under SSA to not have an attorney fighting for their rights to a fair and appropriate benefits award.  This is because a claimant does not have to have any money to hire an experienced attorney, which is good since most claimants are unable to make ends meet as it is.

The reason claimants do not need to be able to afford an attorney is because there should be no payment of legal fees at any point by the claimant directly.  Legal fees are only paid if claimant is successful and SSA pays an attorney reasonable fees from a retroactive benefits award.  In other words, if claimant is not successful, claimant will not have to pay his or her attorney.  The statute also allows for a claimant to get a non-lawyer representative, but there is no good reason to do that when you can get an experienced attorney who will not be paid unless claimant receives such an award of benefits.

The way SSA is able to delay payment of Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Insurance Income benefits for so long starts with denying the clear majority of applications by only stating claimant is not disabled under SSA regulations. Claimant is not submitted to any medical evaluation by SSA at this point, and there has been no hearing by an administrative law judge (ALJ).  A hearing with an ALJ only comes after a denial of an initial application, a denial of a request for reconsideration, filed in-person or over the internet, and an appeal filed in person.  While more than a year has gone by at this point, claimant will wait at-least another year before being granted a hearing before an ALJ.

Since this process takes so long when SSA is fully operational, the stop in processing during a government shutdown will only add more time to the process.  For this reason in these tenuous times, the best thing a claimant can do is to speak with an experienced Boston disability benefits attorney as soon as possible to get the process started.  Having an experienced attorney may speed up the process, though not entirely, but since there will be no processing of new applications during a government shutdown, time is of the essence.

While it may seem like we are talking about a rare event, in these times, it seems like we are constantly at-risk for the next one to occur, so there is no point in delaying the process any more than it already is.

If you or a loved one is seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Here’s what happens to Social Security and disability benefits during a government shutdown, January 20, 2018 By Bob Bryan, Business Insider

More Blog Entries:

SSDI Appeal Results in Affirmation of Denial, Feb. 15, 2017, Boston SSDI Attorney Blog