KEY POINTS

  • As Congress negotiates federal funding for the 2024 fiscal year, Social Security beneficiaries’ checks won’t be interrupted, expert says.
  • But budget negotiations may have an impact on the quality of the services the Social Security Administration can provide.

Congress took a step toward avoiding a looming government shutdown when it reached an agreement Sunday on top-line spending.

Even if lawmakers fail to finalize an agreement by the necessary deadlines, there’s good news for approximately 67 million Americans who rely on Social Security for monthly benefit checks.

“What most people worry about is, ‘Are we going to get our check?’” said Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

“And the answer is ‘yes,’” he said.

Washington lawmakers face two fiscal year 2024 deadlines. On Jan. 19, four regular spending bills that Congress typically passes are set to expire, while the remaining eight are due to expire Feb. 2.

Now that lawmakers have agreed on $1.59 trillion in spending for this fiscal year, they still have to agree on how to allocate those funds and pass the bills.

What may happen with Social Security in a shutdown

If the worst-case scenario happens, and lawmakers fail to finalize a deal before both of those dates, it may take some time for Americans to notice, according to Andrew Lautz, senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“Americans don’t start to really feel the day-to-day effects until a shutdown has lasted for a week or two and agencies have to start shutting down more and more programs and services,” Lautz said.

Those effects may be felt on a “rolling basis,” he said, as Americans find the programs and services they rely on become unavailable, such as a phone line that becomes inactive because government employees have been furloughed or a department that stops giving out loans or grants during the shutdown period.

The disruptions may be most acutely felt by tens of thousands of federal employees who find themselves either furloughed or working without pay.

In reaction to the threat of a partial government shutdown last year, the Social Security Office of Budget, Finance and Management outlined its plans for agency operations during a lapse.

Certain activities — such as applications for benefits or issuance of Social Security cards — would continue. Other services — such as benefit verifications or replacement Medicare cards — would be put on hold.

That framework for Social Security may still apply if the lawmakers fail to finalize an agreement before the Feb. 2 deadline, according to Richtman.

Advocates are watching Social Security funding

This weekend’s activity has prompted optimism that Washington leaders may be able to get an agreement done before those dates.

However, Social Security advocates including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare are closely watching how much funding the agency receives through the negotiations.

President Joe Biden last year requested $1.4 billion more for Social Security in 2024, while House Republicans advocated for cuts to the agency’s operations budget.

Current negotiations point to flat funding for the Social Security Administration, according to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, while reports show the agency already has long waits for service and outdated technology.

Lack of adequate funding may challenge new Social Security Commissioner Martin O’Malley’s plans to improve the agency’s services, Richtman said.

Lawmakers often report hearing from constituents that they have difficulty getting through to Social Security, obtaining replacement cards or verifying their benefits, he said.

“These members of Congress or Senate complain to Social Security, but they won’t provide enough funding to actually be able to do the job,” Richtman said.

“That’s hypocrisy on the part of those members,” he said.