Potential Government Shutdown: What You Need to Know

Once again Congress is heading toward a potential government shutdown. Congress is currently confronting a pair of shutdown deadlines – on March 1 and March 8 – after lawmakers passed a short-term funding bill in January.

With these deadlines looming for Congress to act on enacting a spending bill through the appropriations process as early as the end of this week, we are once again preparing for the possibility of another government shutdown. As a former federal employee and former federal technical assistance provider, I know firsthand the havoc that this can have on employees, contractors, and programs, having been involved in the three shutdowns that have occurred since 2013. Although this may seem like something that only affects those “inside the beltway,” there are broader impacts on the homelessness field nationwide. Here’s what you can do to prepare.

What does a government shutdown mean?

government shutdown disrupts the provision of government services: the majority of federal employees will be furloughed if Congress and the President are not able to agree on a budget (or a short-term continuing resolution) by midnight on March 1 or March 8, depending on the agency. The budget deadline for the bill that covers the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, is March 1. Depending on how long the shutdown occurs, a wide range of programs that assist people experiencing homelessness could be disrupted or delayed.

Potential Impacts on Federal Programs

Programs That Will Not Be Disrupted

  • People will continue to receive Medicaid and Medicare benefits and subsidized coverage through the health care marketplace during a government shutdown. No disruption is expected.
  • People will continue to receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments without interruption during a shutdown. However, some services such as replacing Medicare or Social Security Cards may be suspended. Disability determinations and the processing of work visas will likely be delayed.
  • People will continue to receive assistance through programs funded under HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants (HAG) during a shutdown, and the renewal of Continuum of Care (CoC) Program grants should be able to continue. In general, recipients of HUD’s HAG funding will be able to continue operations like normal. In addition, HUD’s contingency plan for this potential shutdown explicitly states that activities associated with renewing CoC Program grants—both related to the competition and the execution of renewal grant agreements—can continue. However, day-to-day operations will be very limited.

Programs That May Be Disrupted

  • Households will continue to receive HUD assistance during a short shutdown, but a longer shutdown may impact access to rental assistance, depending on when a shutdown occurs and its length. If a shutdown ends before the end of the year, funding for HUD rental assistance should continue as normal: Housing Choice Vouchers, public housing, and Project-Based Rental Assistance are all funded on a calendar year cycle. However, a prolonged period could lead to delays in renewing contracts and financial uncertainty of a shutdown may lead public housing agencies to stop reissuing housing vouchers.
  • People could lose access to food assistance if a government shutdown lasts too long. In the short-term, people who receive help from the major federally-funded, state- or locally-administered nutrition programs are not likely to be at risk of losing access to benefits. However, a longer-term shutdown could cause challenges for people needing to apply for assistance for the first time and/or delays in renewing benefits.
  • People’s access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), including cash assistance, will depend on their state’s policy choices. During a government shutdown, it is likely that quarterly federal payments to states that fund TANF would not be made, but states can make policy choices that would allow them to continue providing benefits and services without interruption.

What can I do right now?

While the nation waits for Congress to decide on the spending bill, it will be helpful for homeless service providers to prepare for a shutdown regardless.