SOCIAL SECURITY

COLA 2022 increase: could the potential government shutdown in December affect payments?

The federal government is on the brink of a shutdown which would see some services run out of funding, but some essential programmes will be able to continue.

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COLA 2022 increase: could the potential government shutdown in December affect payments?
Drew Angerer AFP

The United States is little more than a day away from another government shutdown if Congress cannot agree to pass the 12 required federal funding bills before midnight on Friday evening.

Congress was scheduled to approve the spending proposals back in September but was only able to agree on a short-term package, which is close to elapsing. If a new agreement is not found in time then the federal government will be unable to pay for certain programmes and services and some will be forced to close or operate a reduced serviced.

When this has happened in the past each federal department has prioritised the remaining funds to certain important programmes, meaning that essential services can continue.

Social Security is one of a number of areas of expenditure considered essential, meaning that it is not reliant on the annual spending bills for a source of funds. As such, the potential shutdown should not affect the distribution of Social Security payments.

However some aspects of the Social Security Administration’s work may be affected, meaning that anyone hoping to contact the agency for assistance may find themselves waiting longer than usual.

What else continues in the event of a federal government shutdown?

Typically the areas considered essential relate to public safety and national security, such as policing and border control. Likewise, hospitals and other emergency services would retain funding to ensure that they can continue their coverage during the shutdown.

The 12 funding bills provide funds for the 12 federal agencies and each agency is able to design and implement its own shutdown plan, distributing the available resources as it sees fit.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a non-profit group that focuses on financial issues, states that certain areas will continue to be funded in the event of a shutdown.

What services are protected during a government shutdown?

  • Border protection
  • In-hospital medical care
  • Air traffic control
  • Law enforcement
  • Power grid maintenance

However that does not mean that we know exactly how a shutdown could play out and Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the CRFB, points out that the final decisions ultimately lay with the departments themselves.

"Everything that's not essential has to stop, but there are different definitions of essential work,” he explains. "Every shutdown is different — there is a lot of discretion in the agencies about what they can continue to do.”

There is uncertainty about the impact that a shutdown could have on vaccination researchers at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Typically these research-based services would not be covered by notions of ‘essential’ actions, but with the ongoing danger of the pandemic and new risk of the omicron variant this could now be considered a vital priority for the federal government.