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At press time, the partial shutdown of the federal government is in full swing and President Donald Trump still insists he won’t sign any budget agreement that does not include $5 billion for his proposed wall between parts of the U.S. and Mexico. Of course, Trump has issued such proclamations in the past only to reverse course a bit later on, so it’s impossible to say how long this standoff may last. In the meantime, however, it’s clear that the people being harmed most by this are some of the country’s most vulnerable residents.
Sonny Perdue, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made a point of letting journalists and the public know that meat and poultry inspections will continue through the shutdown. But the USDA’s office of Food and Nutrition, which distributes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women Infants and Children (WIC) benefits, reduced its normal staffing capacity to five percent, beginning on December 26. SNAP and WIC beneficiaries are expected to receive benefits through January, but it’s not clear what will happen after that. In the meantime, no new recipients will be enrolled in the programs.
The Trump Administration and Perdue have already targeted SNAP beneficiaries for reductions. After restrictive new work requirements for SNAP were stricken from the 2018 Farm Bill, Perdue announced the department would independently take steps to ensure that fewer people will be able to receive SNAP benefits. In a December 21 press release, Perdue said the USDA would adopt new rules that make it harder for “able-bodied adults without dependents” to enroll.
“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” he said, in defense of these proposed restrictions. “As we make benefits available to those who truly need them, we must also encourage participants to take proactive steps toward self-sufficiency.” It’s a safe bet that workers in the 29 states that have the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour don’t consider that part of the American dream either.
As we reported two weeks ago, In Sullivan County, more than 12,000 people—about 16 percent of the population—receive SNAP. In Wayne County, more than 6,000 people receive those benefits, amounting to roughly 12 percent of the population.
Other federal nutrition programs that are guaranteed funding only through the end of January are the school lunch, school breakfast, child and adult care feeding and summer food services.
Also because of the shutdown, some 800,000 federal employees are going without paychecks. They have either been furloughed from their jobs, or they are being forced to work without pay for now. They will likely be paid retroactively later, but it’s not a situation they’ve chosen, it has been forced upon them.
President Trump has claimed many federal employees agree with his push to shut down the government unless he gets the wall. But read just a few of the stories on the Twitter feed #ShutdownStories, and that’s not the picture one comes away with.
One poster (twitter.com/mj4ever) writes, “I am a single mother of 3 with no help. Not knowing if I can pay rent or feed my family next week is hard and all that’s on my mind this day of Christmas [sic] when I should be happy.”
Contract workers are in an even worse position. Alan Eisen on Twitter writes, “It’s the low wage contractors—office cleaners, cafeteria workers, maintenance, etc.—who are most affected. They won’t get back pay, in some cases are already working 2 jobs & aren’t on twitter to tell you.”
The National Parks are mostly open to the public, but are not being staffed during the shutdown. “There will be no NPS-provided visitor services at Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River,” according to a release. This includes public information, restrooms, trash collection and facilities and roads maintenance, including plowing parking lots and accesses or shoveling walkways. For more information on how the shutdown will affect local parks and recreation, see the Outdoors section article here.