How the Shutdown Hurts the Poor

People have paid a great deal of attention this past week to how the government shutdown has disappointed national-park visitors, closed monuments, and made it impossible to enter the Smithsonian museums. All true. But what about the services that provide necessities to low-income people: food, education, cash?

As week two of the shutdown gets underway, users of an array of basic services, including the Head Start early-education program, Meals on Wheels, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, are being hit. While it has largely spared Social Security and Medicare, these other services rely on annual appropriations. Without a spending agreement in D.C., their workers don’t get paid. States have made up for the some of the funding shortfall, but as the shutdown drags on that approach becomes less sustainable.

In parts of the country, programs have already stopped providing services. The National Head Start Association has estimated that an additional nineteen thousand children aren’t in preschool now. Last week, low-income families in central and northern Florida found out that their children’s Head Start programs had closed. Nationally, nearly two dozen major Head Start programs due to get their grants on October 1st have been affected. (The timing of the funding is staggered, so for each month that goes by without a resolution to the standoff, more state programs will run out of money.)

The federal government has also stopped sending funds to states for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which provides cash benefits to more than four million people. No states had ceased making TANF payments as of Sunday, but Michigan announced early in the shutdown that it could run out of funds within a couple weeks if the shutdown continues.