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Grocery bags loaded with food from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, sit in a cart before being loaded into a vehicle in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Despite a partial shutdown of the federal government, Mississippi has gotten permission to keep operating WIC through October. WIC helps pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum women, plus infants and children younger than five and affects more than 94,000 low- to moderate-income women and children. Money to pay for WIC goes through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the state Health Department operates 96 distribution sites for the program. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Many of us have been dismayed by media coverage of the government shutdown, which has too rarely focused on its impact on already struggling families in our nation. Instead, media outlets have chosen easy visuals such as barricades in front of parks and monuments, along with disappointed tourists. Only a tiny percentage of segments broadcast by news outlets the first week of the government shutdown mentioned its effects on people already struggling at the economic margins.
As media obsession with political brinksmanship continues, we must refocus their attention on how real people are being badly hurt. That this is happening in the richest nation on earth is both morally wrong and shameful.
Can anyone justify limiting or eliminating nutrition assistance to low-income women and their young children?
According to a memo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, if the shutdown continues through October, federal funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) assistance program may not be sufficient to cover all benefits.
We have already heard reports that some states closed WIC offices in response to the federal shutdown, and that in some places, grocery stores refused to honor WIC vouchers, assuming they wouldn’t get paid. On October 9, the Kansas Department of Health Environment ordered local WIC offices to only issue checks for October and to withhold November and December payments.
And though most WIC offices are open, many mothers in need have feared or mistakenly assumed that benefits were cut off.
Thousands of poor children are losing their preschool access because of the shutdown, which left more than 20 programs across 11 states without funding on the heels of devastating sequester cuts. This number will grow if the shutdown lingers.
“Government shutdown is one cut atop an already deep wound,” according to the National Head Start Association.
Temporary Assistance For Needy Families
Congress missed the October 1 deadline to reauthorize Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is a cash assistance program for needy families. States may be able to extend operations through the end of October, but they have already stopped receiving federal funds. Some states are already announcing that they could soon run out of funds.
Low-income Wage Earners
Many low-wage workers are losing their paychecks or seeing their earnings dwindle even further. Examples include government mailroom clerks, many of whom are people with disabilities, who work for government contractors. Even when federal employees are told they will be paid for the time of the government shutdown, mailroom clerks and many others who work for government contractors receive no such assurance. These employees often live paycheck-to-paycheck and their suffering is real.
Job Training Programs
The lapse in federal funding due to the shutdown may also halt employment and training programs for people who rely on food stamps (SNAP). These programs, known as SNAP E&T, are being left to their own devices during the shutdown, according to a Department of Agriculture (USDA) memo. The amount of cash on hand to cover the loss of funding for these job programs varies from state to state.
SNAP E&T funds not just job training, but also GED classes, work search and placement programs, and other efforts to help food stamp recipients improve their job qualifications and find work that will lift them out of poverty.
As cold weather is already affecting parts of our nation, some states are warning that funds for low-income energy assistance programs could run out by November if the shutdown continues.
Child Welfare Services
The Administration for Children and Families announced that certain child welfare programs will not be funded during the shutdown.
HUD expects that the 3,300 Public Housing Authorities may not be able maintain normal operations due to lack of funding. As is true for many other programs, a lack of staffing because of government worker furloughs makes it difficult to administer needed services.
These are just a few of the more obvious impacts of the shutdown on people at the economic margins. It is clear that ongoing needs will not be met for millions of our fellow Americans. But for pregnant women and mothers who must choose who gets to eat; for children being cared for by neighbors and relatives because their parents need to work and they have no school to attend; for Americans trying to improve their plight through job training well, for them, the shutdown is causing real pain.
People everywhere should be outraged. Today, I am joining an interfaith group of religious leaders visiting the offices of House members, calling on them to vote for “clean” budget and debt ceiling legislation so we can reopen government. I hope people across the nation will demand the same.
Sister Simone Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and leader of the “Nuns on the Bus” campaigns for economic justice and immigration reform.