Matthew Cohen, MSW

Matthew Cohen, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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How Will Social Work Be Affected By A Government Shutdown?

The government shutdown is looming. We thought it would prudent to scour the internet for ways that the shutdown would affect social workers and our clients. Here are some of the highlights ( Well lowlights really..)

From Forbes:

  • Non-essential employees, about 1/3 of the federal workforce, would be furloughed. The distinction between non-essential employees and those who are needed is discretionary but is guided by instructions from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). A memorandum issued by OMB in 1980 defines “essential” government services and “essential” employees as those providing for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property; providing for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year or other funds remaining available for those purposes; and conducting essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property. With that (and subsequent guidance), federal agencies are required to determine which of their employees are “essential.”
  • HeadStart programs – those grants for preschool children to attend school – would not be funded, meaning that school would be out for thousands of children.
  • Foster care and adoption assistance services funded with federal funds or reliant on processing of federal paperwork would cease.

From the Washington Post:

  •  The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients for clinical research and stop answering hotline calls about medial questions. The Centers for Disease Control will have a “significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development will not be able to provide local housing authorities with additional money for housing vouchers. The nation’s 3,300 public housing authorities will not receive payments, although most of these agencies, however, have funds to provide rental assistance through October.


Will Social Security and Medicare payments still be mailed?
  • Yes, but…. Social Security and Medicare are entitlements, and as such, the spending is mandatory. So checks will still go out. But there could be delays if a lack of funds for worker salaries means a reduced workforce at their respective agencies. Also, new applications are likely not to be processed until the government reopens. In the 1996 shutdown, more than 10,000 Medicare applicants were turned away daily, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CFRB).

  • During the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, some Social Security employees were allowed to work, which kept benefits flowing to existing Social Security, disability, and black lung beneficiaries, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). But over time, more workers were brought back to process new claims and respond to other requests (such as from people who needed a Social Security card to work).


From KFOR:

  • I want a new drug: Oh, the irony. The Republicans want to defund Obamacare in exchange for funding the government. But the health care act at the center of this storm would continue its implementation process during a shutdown. That’s because its funds aren’t dependent on the congressional budget process.


From the Guardian:

  • Most services offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue because lawmakers approve money one year in advance for the VA’s health programs. Veterans would still be able to visit hospitals for inpatient care, get mental health counseling at vet centers or get prescriptions filled at VA health clinics. Operators would still staff the crisis hotline and claims workers would still process payments to cover disability and pension benefits. But those veterans appealing the denial of disability benefits to the Board of Veterans Appeals will have to wait longer for a decision because the board would not issue any decisions during a shutdown.

From USNews:

  • Social Security and Medicare benefits would keep coming, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications. Unemployment benefits would still go out.


There you have it, as per usual those who are the most vulnerable are abandoned first. Congress continues to demonstrate that ideology is more important than the people that they have been charged to serve and protect. On the surface it would seem natural to simply place the blame on the Republicans, but Democrats have been as culpable for the emergence of a political climate that is dominated by money, lobbyists and deregulation that is the root cause of this dysfunction. No hands are clean. This is an embarrassing day for America.

Written By Matthew Cohen
Staff Writer


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  1. Homer L. Smith October 1, 2013
  2. Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D October 1, 2013
  3. Brenda Blackburn October 14, 2013
  4. Brandi hale October 15, 2013

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