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In Shutdown, Need to Remember Who Is Affected Most

Written by Caitlin Endyke

As we enter the second week of the government shutdown, we’ve heard stories of its effect across the country - from the shuttering of national parks; to NASA’s website going dark; to certain congress people explaining why they still need to receive a regular paycheck, even when thousands of government employees remain furloughed. 

Yet what has become clear throughout the week is that the people being hit hardest by the federal shutdown are those who rely on government services the most.  They’re also those who have been bearing the effects of reduced federal funding for months, since the sequester began on March 1st of this year.  The Coalition of Human Needs has been diligently tracking the effects of the sequester since it began making clear that the shutdown wasn’t where problems began, but was a temporary nail in the coffin for many crucial assistance programs.  They note that since the first week of the sequester, states were cutting children from Head Start, reducing work-study funding for college students, and eliminating families from Section 8 housing voucher programs.  That means there’s been 6 months of cuts to government assistance before a shutdown was even announced.

The decision to shut down and eliminate funding for these crucial programs symbolizes the federal government’s continued disinvestment from poor people and the social safety net.  Most notably, funding for The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which serves over 9 million low income mothers and children, has ceased. Though it is still operating thanks to emergency funding from the USDA, families that rely on WIC are nervous about how they will afford to feed their children should the program stop being able to offer assistance. 

The main item included in the spending bill that is preventing lawmakers from reaching an agreement is the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  Those against the ACA hold up as one of their main arguments against a government-run health care system that the American people wouldn’t want to rely on the government to deliver adequate health care services.  It’s an idea that’s been adopted widely across the country, and eventually leads to a pervasive narrative that these federally-funded social safety net programs aren’t crucial to the millions of families who rely on them to meet basic needs.  While some expect nonprofit organizations to step in to fill these gaps, cuts in funding have made it harder for them to maintain programs they already run, much less expand their services to meet the increased demand. Givevoice.org has been collecting these stories, asserting that “the sequestration cuts will hurt the work of nearly every charitable nonprofit in America – even nonprofits that do not receive any direct government funding”.

If the government shutdown continues, we’ll have much more to worry about than NASA’s Instagram account. The Coalition of Human Needs notes that  certain assistance programs purported to be unaffected by the shutdown, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), won’t receive regular disbursement of funds next month should the shutdown continue.  Because funding was already cut during sequestration, assistance programs like these have already depleted necessary reserves that might have carried them through for a little while. What this means is that the longer congress refuses to come to an agreement, low income families will become less and less able to meet basic needs. The government will have once again turned its back on those who rely on it the most.

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