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2019 Partial Government Shutdown's Impact on People with MS

January 10, 2019

Several key government departments and agencies remained un-funded for fiscal year (FY) 2019 including the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury. The partial shutdown began at midnight on  December 21, 2018 after the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and the White House were unable to negotiate a new funding deal. The other parts of the government had already been funded in full for FY 2019 and are not impacted.

A partial or full government shutdown means all non-essential federal government operations are shut down until Congress passes a stopgap funding bill and/or comes to consensus on final funding levels for FY 2019. 

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security Administration (SSA) Programs are NOT affected, although the processing of new SSA applications are more likely to be delayed the longer the shutdown continues. Additionally, people living with MS relying on certain other federal programs   may be impacted by the following: 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): According to the Department of Agriculture, eligible households will still receive monthly SNAP benefits for January, but the $3 billion in emergency funds for SNAP appropriated by Congress will not cover the spending for the entire month of February. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, WIC, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, can continue to operate at the State and local level with any funding and commodity resources that remain available. Additional Federal funds will not be provided during the shutdown, however, deliveries of already-purchased items will continue.

Filing for Unemployment: In the event of a Federal government shutdown, Federal employees may be eligible for Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE). The UCFE program is administered by state unemployment insurance (UI) agencies acting as agents of the Federal government. Federal employees should reference this furlough guidance memo from the Office of Personnel Management for more information. Government contractors should reach out to their company’s human resources department for guidance as policies may differ. However, they may not be eligible for back-pay like federal employees. 

Tax Returns: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced it will begin processing tax returns on January 28th per the normal schedule and plans to issue refunds as planned. IRS employees will be recalled if no agreement has been made to re-open the government by that date.

Housing Benefits: About 1,150 contracts with private landlords have expired since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). About 500 more contracts will expire in January and 550 in February if the shutdown continues. Historically, HUD has reimbursed owners following a shutdown and never experienced evictions. On January 4th, HUD sent letters to landlords asking them to use their reserve accounts rather than evict tenants during the shutdown. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is funded through the Department of Health and Human Services and should not be affected. 

Department of Agriculture (USDA) direct loan programs will not issue any additional funds, including Section 504, 514, and 502.  USDA’s shutdown plan notes that banks are unlikely to close on these loans until the government shutdown ends, delaying homeownership at best and possibly forcing sellers to look elsewhere. As the shutdown persists, USDA will be unable to make rental assistance  payments or issue vouchers for low- and very low-income tenants. 

Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Very limited activities continue in programs that are funded by carryover in user fees funds (fees that are paid by industry to allow for regulatory approval), however, as those funds lapse, so will FDA activity and regulatory approvals may be delayed. The FDA is continuing activities to address imminent threats to the safety of human life. 

Travel: Expect longer wait times at airport security due to reduced Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff. TSA staff are deemed essential employees and are expected to work without pay during the shutdown. However, there has been an increase in TSA employees calling in sick as they may be unable to afford childcare, are pursuing other sources of income or for other reasons.  

This document provides guidance based on the best available information about how a shutdown may impact people with MS. The National MS Society is not a government agency and does not rely on government funding. Therefore, there will be no direct impact to the Society. If you have specific questions, please contact the Society’s MS Navigators at 1-800-344-4867 (regular business hours) or online.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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