The Federal Government Shutdown: Its Impact on the Nation’s Poor and Elderly

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In a previous blog we wrote about the impact of the federal shutdown on workers, and the fact that unemployment is likely to spike as both public and private sector workers temporarily lose their jobs. But sadly, that is only the tip of the iceberg.

The federal government shutdown is taking its toll on our most vulnerable Americans: those who are poor and elderly.

Though it is true that Social Security checks will continue to go out to beneficiaries, Medicaid and Medicare payments to physicians and hospitals will be made, and food stamps will continue to be available to help people pay for their groceries, many other programs which people in poverty and seniors rely on are closing and will remain closed until the federal government shutdown is over.

Two federal agencies that focus heavily on low-income people and seniors are the Departments of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture, and both operate or fund major programs that are now sidelined.

These range from Head Start to Senior Nutrition, to cash assistance as well as food stamps. And without these, people in poverty and seniors will continue to face very hard times.

What does this mean for your city and cities like yours? It means that your citizens will turn to you for the assistance they need.

Many residents will face some significant short-term hardships that will affect their health and well-being. And they are likely to turn to you to find out where they can get meals or day care, for example. They may expect city government to step in and take up the slack that the federal shutdown has caused. And they are also likely to seek assistance from community-based and faith-based organizations, putting additional strain on these organizations’ ability to provide assistance to the community at-large.

No doubt, no matter where your residents turn, it will be for services that they have come to expect and rely on but are temporarily inaccessible, and the burden will be on city government to help them even as local resources and services are increasingly strained.

The National League of Cities urges you contact your Representative today by phone, email or Twitter, and let them know that you support the passage of a clean continuing resolution for fiscal year 2014. Cities can’t afford to pick up the slack that the federal government shutdown is causing.

Below is a list of programs operated or funded by the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture that currently are impacted or will be impacted by the federal government shutdown.

Department of Health and Human Services programs are shutting down.

Head Start: Programs that were due to receive their funding in October will not receive it. According to the National Head Start Association, this includes 23 programs in 11 states serving 19,000 children.

Social Services Block Grant (SSBG): October social services grant funding has not been forthcoming because of the shutdown. Funds to prevent elder abuse, child care and some child welfare services, adult day care and meals programs, and other family services have been ended, and states may choose the programs themselves or allow these programs to temporarily shut down.

Community Services Block Grant (CSBG): These funds will not be distributed this October. They support the activities of about 1,100 community action agencies nationwide, which provide antipoverty services including Head Start, home energy and weatherization assistance, and job training.

Other Programs Operated by HHS: According to the HHS contingency plan, funding will stop during the shutdown for Senior Nutrition programs, Native American Nutrition and Supportive Services, Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect, the Long Term Care Ombudsman program, and Protection and Advocacy for persons with developmental disabilities.

TANF and Child Care Development Funds: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance and parts of the Child Care Development Fund do not require annual appropriations, and so ordinarily would not be affected by the government shutdown. But this time it’s different. TANF and the Child Care Development Fund legislation needed to be reauthorized by September 30. These renewals were held up along with the spending bill, forcing HHS to announce that the next regular disbursement of funds to states this month will not take place. This could mean that cash assistance, child care, and other services will be interrupted unless states step in and use carryover funds (if those exist) or self-fund the program (which they can do since they are required to make annual contributions anyway).

However, an example of a possible future problem is the State of Arizona’s decision to end TANF and refugee assistance payments to its very poor families starting October 3. This means that nearly two-thirds of Arizona’s 16,300 cash assistance families will go without benefits that average only $207 per month.

Department of Agriculture funded programs are shutting down.

WIC: Funds to support the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children have not been available since October 1, meaning that low-income babies, young children and pregnant women will not be able to obtain food and clinical services provided by this program.

Senior Meals: Meals delivered to homebound seniors were already cut eight percent last year by sequestration. A survey conducted by the Meals on Wheels Association of America found that 70 percent of programs had reduced the number of meals delivered. The federal shutdown, if it lasts more than a few days, will further strain the resources of meals programs, many of whom used scarce reserves to offset sequestration cuts.

SNAP/food stamps: Because SNAP is not subject to annual appropriations, it will continue to be available to low income families and individuals.

Child Nutrition programs: School meals and afterschool programs are expected to have carryover funds and advance funding sufficient to pay for continued operations in October and potentially beyond.

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.