Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Impact of the Government Shutdown on Children and Families

While the government shutdown is well into its second week, it is important to keep in mind the devastating consequences that are continuing to impact the most vulnerable children and families. Though programs that directly ensure public health and safety have avoided the spending freeze, including Medicaid and Social Security, most of the programs that are affected are still vital supports and services that help sustain young women and children, low-income families, and the elderly.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which provides temporary financial assistance to help pregnant women and families pay for food, shelter, utilities, and expenses other than medical costs, has stopped awarding new funds, however states have the option to continue providing benefits with state dollars. Since TANF provides significant services in addition to cash assistance, such as GED preparation, vocational training, postsecondary education, vocational rehabilitation, help with child care, work stipends, job retention services and more, discontinuing the program during the shut-down – particularly if it continues for much longer - would be a devastating for families in need.

Head Start programs will also be affected by the shutdown—a total of 23 programs serving 19,000 children will be affected as their grants begin to expire. Those cuts are in addition to the 57,000 children pushed of Head Start as a result of the sequester, on top of a $400 million mandatory cut to the program nationwide. The longer the shutdown continues, the more Head Start programs and young children will be adversely impacted.

Implications of the government shutdown to nutrition programs are equally alarming. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps over 47 million low-income Americans, will continue providing benefits, but only until the end of October. States have the option of continuing the SNAP program through 2014, but the $2 billion available for contingency funds that would be used to compensate the loss of funding would not be enough to support the program in the long-term, since SNAP provides about $6 billion in support to families per month.

The Special, Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which assists over 9 million at-risk mothers, infants, and young children in accessing healthy food, nutrition information, and health referrals, will also continue until the end of October. Like SNAP, most states have funds to continue WIC for a week or so, but the program won’t be able to continue for very long, with emergency funds running out by the end of the month.

The impact on supplemental nutrition programs is also impacting the elderly. Senior Nutrition Programs have stopped as a result of the shutdown. The Department of Health and Human Services can no longer fund Meals on Wheels, which provides more than one million home-delivered meals to seniors who need them each day. This crucial service has also been impacted by the sequester, which is discussed in this previous post.

The government shutdown is risking the basic supports and services low-income families need to survive. Although there are emergency funds to continue certain programs in the meantime, the long-term consequences will be harmful and widespread. State policymakers should use their discretion to continue the programs that can provide supports and services to vulnerable families; however, the only sustainable solution is for the government to go back to work in serving children and their families as soon as possible to minimize the impact.

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