The 8 immoral ways the government shutdown is hurting the needy

Grocery bags loaded with food from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, … Continued


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.

Nutrition Programs

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.

Head Start

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.

Energy Assistance

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.

Public Housing

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.


Much more

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.

  • IRSTA

    How about story on the impact this is having on federal families? Those people that run the government have endured years without a pay increase. Furlough days without pay throughout the year due to sequestration and now being locked out of their work places hav put a tremendous strain on those families as well. Many work for barely a living wage and also live paycheck to paycheck. How about a story on how they are struggling to make rent or mortgage payments. May of thee employees are barred from seeking outside employment without prior approval and with the gorvernment being shut down, even trying to find some other type of emnial work to feed their families is not an option. Why is it that welfare recipients seem to get more respect than the men and women working as public servants? Why is everything focused on ruined vacations to national parks, sheesh, I’m so tired of it. Many of us just want to get back to the work of our country!

  • PB104

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said. I agree with everything you said except for the part about welfare recipients getting more respect. As one who worked with public benefits programs for many years, I think the powers that be (including the media) treat public benefits recipients a little bit worse than they treat federal employees. Regarding the rest of your comment, as a federal employee who is really feeling the pain, tell me where to sign up and I will be the first one in line to give the media an earful regarding the impact the shutdown is having on my family and me.

  • KACAP_KS

    Cheers to Sister Simone for yet another on-target assessment of how the media and society so easily overlook the less sexy but very, very real stories of struggling Americans.

  • NinaSeifertBishop

    Vote all of them out! Everyone that is currently in should be voted out. Either that, or the guillotine.

  • waternymph

    Thank you! Yes, what about us Federal workers who just feel like we’ve been “had” by the American people, the President, and the Congress! We feel like we’ve been taken advantage of by losing pay raises that were guaranteed to us in some instances by the government’s contract with our bargaining units. Do you know how late I and about 10 coworkers worked 30 September – the day prior to the shutdown, to make sure that contracts for the next fiscal year were ready for 1 October? I worked until 1030 PM – UNPAID I might add. And some worked until the wee hours of the morning of 1 October. To add insult to injury, we sat here for 5 1/2 hours on 1 October, waiting to find out what Congress was doing and what our Commanders were going to do about it! Then we were instructed to fill out our timecards as if we were furloughed the WHOLE day. I didn’t. I did 5 1/2 hours work. I put it down as such. Why should I lie?