Government shutdown: What happens to Social Security, SNAP, VA benefits and more?

The U.S. Senate failed on Monday to pass a measure that would have suspended the federal debt ceiling and stave off a partial government shutdown set for the end of this week.

>> Read more trending news

The bill, introduced by Senate Democrats, sought to pass a measure that funds the government through Dec. 3, and suspends the debt ceiling through Dec. 16, 2022. The measure had already been approved by the House.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said of the vote that Republicans are not willing to pass any measure that would raise or suspend the debt ceiling.

“We will support a clean continuing resolution that will prevent a government shutdown,” McConnell said. “We will not provide Republican votes for raising the debt limit.”

Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said he had hoped Republicans would join with Democrats to pass the measure and avoided a shutdown of the federal government.

“There is a very simple step we can take today to guarantee the government won’t default and won’t shut down,” Schumer said on the floor Monday.

“To do otherwise is the height of recklessness, irresponsibility,” Schumer added.

While both parties have promised to work to fund federal government operations before the midnight Thursday deadline for money to run out, so far, Congress has enacted no appropriations bills that would set discretionary spending levels for the next year.

What will happen to such programs as Social Security, veterans benefits and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if the government shuts down? Here’s what we know about the shutdown now.

What does it mean when the government shuts down?

A government shutdown happens when Congress fails to pass bills to fund federal agencies and programs.

There are two types of spending in the federal government — mandatory spending and discretionary spending.

Mandatory spending is just that, spending that is required by law for specific programs. The remaining money in the federal budget is known as discretionary funds. Usually, discretionary funds make up about 30% of the national budget.

Each year, Congress must pass budget legislation that consists of 12 appropriations bills that fund programs for the next fiscal year which begins on Oct. 1.

So far, none of those bills have been passed by Congress.

If the appropriations bills are not passed, or, in their place, a continuing resolution (more about that below) is not enacted, then the agencies that depend on those funds will have to shut down.

The shutdown means that the agencies must stop all non-essential discretionary functions until a funding bill has been passed and signed into law by the president.

Some functions paid for by discretionary funds are deemed “essential” services. Those essential services will continue, as do all the mandatory spending programs.

Is the shutdown likely to happen?

The White House told agencies last week to prepare for a shutdown. After Monday’s failed vote, we are closer to a shutdown, but it is not a done deal yet.

What is a continuing resolution, and what does it have to do with a government shutdown?

A continuing resolution, or “CR,” is legislation that funds government operations at the current spending level.

CRs can fund the government for days, weeks or months. A CR that passed the House last week would fund the government through Dec. 3. It must still pass the Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden.

What is the debt ceiling?

It’s the limit on how much money the federal government is allowed to borrow to pay for certain services.

The current borrowing limit is $28.4 trillion.

What happens if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling?

If the limit is not raised, the government will run out of money to service the debt the country owes. That would happen sometime in October, according to Treasury Sec. Janet Yellen. The government would not be able to pay for its purchases or any other federal obligations.

The U.S. has never defaulted on its debts. Because of that record, the country can borrow money at low rates.

How are agencies affected if the government shuts down?

There is no one plan for all agencies of government in the event of a shutdown. Each agency has its own plan, and the plans are coordinated through the Office of Management and Budget.

Whether an agency furloughs its federal employees during a shutdown depends on how the agency is funded.

If it is an agency with mandatory funding, generally, it remains open. If the agency falls under the umbrella of discretionary funding, then it will most likely be closed, and the employees sent home.

An exception would be if the agency has essential duties to perform. Those generally have to do with public safety, such as law enforcement, air traffic control and maintenance of the power grid.

If that is the case, then the employees come to work, but are not paid to be there. In the past, they have received their pay after a resolution is passed that authorizes the back pay.

Here are where certain agencies and services fall in a government shutdown:

Social Security: Social Security checks are still delivered in the event of a shutdown. However, such things as benefit verification and card issuance would be put on hold until the shutdown is over.

Medicare services: Medicare services will continue, at least for a time.

Veterans Administration: VA care and services will continue. Disabled veterans, dependents and survivors would continue to receive their payments from the VA.

The U.S. Postal Service: Mail will be delivered in the event of a shutdown. The U.S. Postal Service is an independent agency.

Air travel: Transportation Security Administration officers and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers are considered to be “essential” federal workers, so they continue to work during any shutdown. They would be working without pay.

COVID-19: According to an agency shutdown plan reported by Reuters, 62% of employees at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control could be furloughed

The Department of Health and Human Services’ shutdown plan says the CDC “will continue full support” for public health needs, according to Reuters.

“The agency is certainly going to be operating at lower efficiency,” said David Reich, a former congressional staffer now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank.

“The worst time in the world we want to shut down the government is in the middle of a pandemic where we have 140,000 people a day getting infected and 2,000 people a day dying,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post last week. “That’s the time when you want the government working full blast to address this.”

IRS: The Internal Revenue Service would furlough the majority of its employees, though some would stay to process what they can when it comes to tax returns.

Child Tax Credit: It is expected that the monthly Child Tax Credit would be processed by those still at the IRS.

Food inspection: The EPA would put a hold on food inspections.

National Parks: During the 2013 shutdown, national parks were closed. During the 2018-19 shutdown, most parks remained open but without visitor services.

The National Institutes of Health: The NIH would not admit new patients.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: SNAP funding is mandatory, but CRs often only authorize benefits for 30 days after a shutdown begins. SNAP is commonly known as the food stamp program.