What Does the Government Shutdown Mean for Hunger?
Coverage of the government shutdown is dominating the news right now, but, as budget fights go, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, without finger-pointing or hollow rhetoric, here is what anti-hunger advocates need to know about current, and upcoming, budget fights on Capitol Hill.
1. What does the government shutdown mean for families struggling with hunger and living in poverty?
A government shutdown means there are no additional federal funds to support programs such as WIC, SNAP (formerly food stamps), Head Start, low-income housing assistance, and international poverty-focused development assistance. In the short term, a shutdown doesn’t have disastrous consequences for most anti-hunger programs. However, the longer the shutdown continues, the more harm is done to vulnerable populations, both in the United States and abroad. For example:
- The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): Continued services, food benefits, and program administration depends on how individual states react and how long the shutdown lasts. Most WIC centers appear able to continue to operate through the end of October, but as the shutdown continues, the consequences become more dramatic.
- Head Start: A small number of Head Start centers are feeling the impact of a government shutdown immediately, primarily those with grants that expired on Oct. 1.
- SNAP: Households will continue to receive benefits through October. There is some contingency funding available to support the program, but it is unclear what will happen if the shutdown lasts more than a month.
- International Poverty-Focused Development Assistance Programs: For the time being, some programs within USAID will continue to operate using residual funds. However, uncertainly about funding will eventually hinder diplomacy and development and deplete U.S. flexibility to respond to national security imperatives.
- The Economy and Jobs: The shutdown will drag down an already-weakened economy. Furloughed workers, halted contracts, cut services—the economic consequences are serious. More than 800,000 federal employees are on unpaid leave and lost wages are estimated to cost the economy $1 billion per week.
2. What exactly is on the table in these congressional negotiations? And why can’t members of Congress agree?
A few things stand out about the current situation.
- The stalemate around passing a short-term budget, or continuing resolution (CR), does not concern spending levels. Both the House and the Senate have passed a budget and, although there are vast differences in totals for fiscal year 2014 between the two chambers, a short-term budget would simply extend current funding levels for a few months as Congress negotiates the final budget. Some members in the House are refusing to pass an extension and are taking the negotiations hostage because of the Affordable Care Act.
- A short-term budget would buy Congress some time as they work to come to agreement on a bigger budget bill. A final budget must take a balanced approach, address sequestration, and include further deficit reduction to address long-term solutions to hunger.
- Partisanship over a short-term budget does not bode well for the October debt ceiling negotiations. Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 17 to prevent the country from defaulting on its obligations. The U.S Treasury Department released a report today predicting that a debt crisis in mid-October could send the nation into a recession comparable to the one we experienced in 2008 or worse.
If the shutdown fight gets wrapped up into a larger budget deal involving the debt ceiling, the seriousness of the situation grows exponentially.
3.Why are debt ceiling negotiations so important?
The government shutdown is serious, but failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic.
- The United States is expected to hit its credit limit (debt ceiling) on Oct.17. If Congress doesn’t act, our country won’t be able to pay its bills and will default. The economic consequences would be catastrophic. The U.S Treasury Department released a report today predicting that a debt crisis in mid-October could send the nation into a recession comparable to the one we experienced in 2008 or worse.
- We’re likely to see proposals that call for cutting programs such as SNAP and Medicaid in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. This is deeply troubling. A bad deal means backpedalling on years of work reducing hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.
Our country cannot afford to see political games played around the debt ceiling. The creditworthiness of the United States is not a bargaining chip.
4. What can faithful advocates do?
First, you should email Congress today. Your calls may not go through to your members of Congress during the shutdown, but you can email. Second, you can influence the public debate around these issues by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper.
Congress has to resolve these issues. This government shutdown is unaffordable, sequestration remains unsustainable, and a bad deal that further hurts the poor is unconscionable.
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