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

If Congress fails to provide funding for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the federal government will officially shut down next week.

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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. If legislation isn’t passed, the federal government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 1.

As of Thursday, the House had passed one of the 12, and the Senate had not passed any.

If the 12 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 is 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.

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 must pass the House and the Senate and be signed by the president.

What is the debt ceiling?

The debt ceiling is the limit on how much money the federal government is allowed to borrow to pay for certain services.

The Treasury Department reached its debt ceiling of $31.4 trillion in January. In June, Congress voted to suspend the ceiling until January 2025.

What does that mean for the average citizen, federal workers, members of the military, those who get Social Security benefits and others?

Here’s what we know now:

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: 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 work without pay.

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.

Federal employees

If the federal government is shut down, hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be furloughed without pay. Workers deemed “essential” would remain on the job, but without pay.


U.S. military personnel would remain at their posts, but roughly half of the Pentagon’s 800,000 civilian employees would be furloughed.

According to Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military will keep active-duty troops and a limited number of civilian defense employees at their posts during a federal government shutdown, but they might have to go without pay.


Federal law enforcement agencies would continue to operate with agents of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service on the job.

Agents at the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service and other federal law enforcement agencies would remain on the job.

Criminal prosecutions, including the two federal cases against former President Donald Trump, would continue, Reuters reported. However, most civil litigation would be postponed.


Border Patrol enforcement agents would continue to work.


Processing for passports and visas would continue as long as there are fees to cover operations.

Space and weather

While NASA would continue to support the International Space Station, around 92% of its employees would be furloughed.

Weather forecasts would continue.

Student loans

Pell grants and student loans would continue to be paid to colleges, even though employees at the Department of Education would be furloughed.

Head Start

According to the White House, 10,000 children from low-income families would lose access to the Head Start preschool program.

The White House

In 2018-2019 shutdown, the White House furloughed 1,100 of 1,800 staff in the Executive Office of the President, according to The Associated Press.

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