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Here's How People With Disabilities Could Still Feel the Effects of the Government Shutdown

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The Federal Government ended its longest shutdown in history Friday. It could shut down again Feb. 15 if Congress and President Donald Trump do not come to an agreement on appropriations bills — bills that decide on government spending for programs and departments. Though the 35-day partial shutdown is temporarily over, federal workers, including those with disabilities, and others who receive certain social benefits may continue to feel an effect.

Assuming the government does not close again, people’s food assistance could still be affected. About 11 million people with disabilities in 2015 received benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Though food stamps are not meant to cover all of a household’s food for a month, it provides access to essential foods.

Because of the shutdown, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent SNAP benefits before Jan. 20 to ensure people would have them for February. Funding for March benefits was uncertain. Even if people receive SNAP benefits for March, the gap between receiving February’s assistance and March’s could stretch between 40 to 50 days, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A typical gap between assistance is 28 to 31 days.

The government shutdown hurts federal workers who are furloughed or forced to work without pay the most. About 800,000 federal workers missed two paychecks during the shutdown, though they will receive back pay in a few days now that the government is open. The federal government is the largest employer in the nation, including for people with disabilities. Nearly 30,000 federal disabled workers (not including contract workers) in various departments were affected, according to The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Employment and Training Task Force.

While federal employees will receive back pay, contract workers for the government will more than likely not receive back pay. These include people working certain jobs in federal buildings like janitorial services, security guards or in the cafeteria. Other contract employees include those working for companies who receive funding from the government. Because they can’t bill the government for services during a shutdown, those companies may not pay their workers. Thousands of people with disabilities are contract workers, and the government sets aside some federal contracts for nonprofits who specifically hire people with disabilities.

The partial government shutdown did not affect Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Any benefits or insurance through these programs continued, according to Vox. These services are considered “mandatory spending,” meaning their funding is not affected by the appropriations bills Congress and President Trump are currently fighting over. Though parts of these services may have slowed or ceased, such as enrolling new members, people continued to receive their benefits. Federal workers also did not lose health insurance coverage during the shutdown.

Disagreements on the Homeland Security funding, which includes border security and building a wall along the south border, led to the government shutdown. If Congress and Trump do not come to an agreement, the government could shut down again.

Photo via Getty Images/Tanarch

Originally published: January 26, 2019
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