For most Americans, the most painful aspect of the government shutdown has been the prospect of delayed tax returns. But for many of us — 38 million to be exact– starving is a real possibility.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, Congress has appropriated funding for food assistance — SNAP, or food stamps– through February. After that, the Trump administration makes no promise that funds will not run out. This uncertainty is terrifying for millions of Americans, and it is dishonest for the most powerful man in the world to blame others for the shutdown when the solution is as simple as the stroke of his pen.
Unfortunately, it is looking less and less likely the government will be funded before families go hungry. If you are keeping count, 38 million Americans are liable to be food insecure, 420,000 federal employees work without pay, and 380,000 furloughed workers are also unpaid. While we are counting the vulnerable, you can be assured that there are federal workers who receive SNAP benefits, too.
This is not fair, smart, or acceptable. This is not a partisan challenge. Compromises have been reached in the past without resorting to a drastic and destructive standoff. The irony of the President demanding funds for a border wall to “protect” Americans while simultaneously making millions of Americans more vulnerable should not be lost on anyone. Apparently, it is more important for the President to get a sliver of the funding needed for his symbolic wall, or fence, or column of tall, pointed spikes, than for his constituents to know where their next meal is coming from.
There are many ways to get support for border security without holding funding for hungry mothers’ and children’s food, federal workers’ pay, and even tax refunds, hostage. This is nuts.
Like with most things, the President’s wealthy supporters are completely unaffected by these developments, save those invested in seeing the border wall come to fruition. Still, most successful business people like me will not miss a meal as this shutdown continues, nor do we rely on tax refunds to afford our basic needs. Early in my career when I worked directly with the poor in social services, I got an acute sense of just how fragile and uncertain the ‘safety net’ is. When the government is open we have far too many vulnerable families who struggle to feed and care for themselves. Many of the working poor are one paycheck away from a financial crush that could lead to losing their housing. With the government shuttered we cannot even measure how many families are suffering.
This shows the problem with how our government decides which services are “essential” and which are not. Services that Americans hovering around the poverty line rely on can go without funding. Members of Congress, on the other hand, are still receiving their direct deposits.
As it is now, however, an absence of SNAP funding will be a disaster for millions of the most vulnerable across the country. Almost two-thirds of food stamp recipients are children, seniors, and people with disabilities. They will suffer without help. But it gets worse– nothing happens in a vacuum. The local economies that service these households will not be receiving the payments in food stamps that they are accustomed to. Small businesses, from mom-and-pop delis to greengrocers, will see a significant drop in revenue that will affect their ability to pay employees and provide for their families. As such, 38 million probably underestimates the number of Americans who will face significant hardships should SNAP go unfunded. We are quite literally weeks away from a rolling economic and humanitarian crisis.
At this point, it is time for Congress and the President rethink their priorities and do the right thing for families. Nothing should come before making sure American families have enough to eat.