(Updated: April 8, 2011 at 2:22 PM CT)
With a federal government shutdown looking increasingly likely, a variety of services for Americans with disabilities stand to be impacted but to what extent remains unclear.
Through a series of stop-gap measures, Congress has repeatedly put off finalizing the federal budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which began in October. But without an agreement, the government will shut down once the latest temporary funding plan expires Friday night.
If that happens, federal officials say even they are not entirely clear on the potential ramifications. As government agencies scramble to institute contingency plans, here’s what is known:
SOCIAL SECURITY Payments will continue as usual to people currently receiving benefits, says Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration. The agency will process new applications, though there may be delays. Local offices will remain open, but only for select services.
MEDICAID No impact is likely for Medicaid programs. “Medicaid is an essential function of our government and therefore will continue to operate in a normal way,” says Mary Kahn, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. States will continue to have access to their allotment of federal money for the program and payments to doctors will proceed normally, Kahn says.
HOUSING There won’t be any immediate ramifications on housing assistance programs for people with disabilities but that could change depending on the length of a shutdown, says Jerry Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s because all of the agency’s vouchers are already paid through April, but thousands of payments for May and subsequent months could potentially be delayed.
SPECIAL EDUCATION Officials at the U.S. Department of Education say only time will tell. “In a number of cases, the lack of or delay in department obligations and payments beyond one week would severely curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities and vocational rehabilitation agencies that depend on the department’s funds to support their services,” reads a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget about the department’s plans.
DISABILITY RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT Civil litigation — including the enforcement of disability rights laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act — will be “curtailed or postponed” to the extent possible, according to Justice Department officials.