With the odds of a US debt default rising, Social Security advocates are warning beneficiaries to be prepared in case their payments are interrupted.
Negotiations over whether the nation’s ability to borrow money should be expanded have been ongoing, but Congress and the White House have yet to agree on the way forward.
The impasse has put the US in a precarious financial position and leaves some of the most vulnerable Americans at risk.
Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said there is a «good chance» that a default would cut benefits for millions of Americans.
«Seniors need to be prepared if they have the financial capacity,» Adcock said, adding that they should consider putting off discretionary purchases «so they have enough to get by.»
But millions of recipients don’t have financial room to maneuver, Adcock said, noting that about 40% of Social Security recipients, which include disabled and widowed Americans, receive 90% of their income from the safety net program. That equates to almost 27 million people.
«Even though we’re just a few weeks away from a default, they won’t have enough to save to cushion the fact that they don’t get paid,» Adcock said.
It’s not a foregone conclusion
Analysts suggest that it is not certain that the government will stop paying Social Security recipients in case of default. The matter is likely to depend on the amount of cash available in case the debt ceiling is breached.
The staggered schedule of Social Security payments, which relies on a person’s date of birth to determine what part of the month they receive, means that not all beneficiaries would be equally affected in a missed or partial payment scenario.
The White House and House Republicans remain at loggerheads after meeting Wednesday to discuss a resolution to the impasse. NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Ali Vitali reported that the meeting was «tense.» Led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Party is seeking spending cuts from President Joe Biden in exchange for a deal to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default.
On Thursday, the White House said a scheduled follow-up meeting had been postponed.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that a default could come as soon as June 1. When asked for comment, a department spokesperson pointed to Yellen’s recent comments in which she said the Treasury may not be able to pay bills due on the day of a default, including payments to Social Security recipients. and to Medicare providers.
«This would really be the first time in American history that we would stop making payments due,» Yellen said.
A McCarthy spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent Thursday. After the meeting on Tuesday, he told reporters there was «no new movement» on the negotiating positions.
«Everyone in this meeting reiterated the positions that they were on,» prior to the meeting, McCarthy said outside the White House.
Mary Johnson, a policy analyst for the Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said she is much more pessimistic about a resolution this time around compared to 2011, the last time a debt ceiling crisis played out.
By law, Johnson said, the Social Security Administration cannot spend more money than it has available, which she said seems to preempt any other possible solution, absent an agreement between Republicans and the Biden administration.
«We are extremely divided and there is a strong possibility that we will reach an impasse,» Johnson said.
«And the longer we wait and get closer to default, the greater the risk that Social Security benefits will be delayed and delayed, or not paid in full.»