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The Shutdown: Just Another Way to Harm Women, Children, and Low-Income People

Posted by Social Media Intern Michelle Auster

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that all those new Happy Hour specials in D.C. are due to the Government Shutdown. Thanks to our friends on the right, (now a minority of Congresspeople,) the government ceased to operate because some wrong people (coughcoughMichelleBachmanncoughcough) find the Affordable Care Act to be un-American. It’s only been a week, and the number of people being harmed by the shutdown keeps climbing. Yes, the post office is still running and school is still in session, but besides hundreds of thousands of federal workers being (temporarily, we hope) out of a job, who else are being harmed by this juvenile display?

Oh, there are JUST A FEW key federally-funded programs which have not been in operation since the shutdown which many women and low-income families rely on. From The National Women’s Law Center:

  • The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is a block grant to states to fund cash assistance, work supports, and other services for low-income children and parents (mostly single mothers). Federal TANF funding expired September 30, so states will have to advance the funds until the shutdown ends – or stop providing benefits, as Arizona did on Wednesday, cutting off assistance to over 5,000 low-income families.
  • On Tuesday, the federal government could not distribute funds to 23 Head Start programs that were scheduled to receive their annual grant that day; those 23 programs, which serve nearly 19,000 children from low-income families, will be forced to close. Prior to October 1, another 57,000 children had already lost Head Start services due to sequester cuts. While most Head Start programs can continue to operate for a while, an extended shutdown will put more grants at risk.
  • Meals on Wheels, which provides food for low-income, homebound seniors, has also cut services this year due to sequestration; without any new federal funding under the shutdown, the program will only be able to operate for another week or two without making more cuts. Elderly women, who live longer than men and are more likely to be poor, are especially at risk from cuts to nutrition assistance.
  • The federal agency that distributes Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funds to domestic violence programs across the country announced that it will close if the shutdown lasts beyond today (October 4th) – meaning programs that rely on VAWA funding may soon reduce services. Many of these programs, too, have already been affected by sequester cuts that have eliminated access to recovery programs and shelters for an estimated 70, 120 victims of domestic violence.

All of this is just scraping the surface — again, this is week 1. If the shutdown continues — and the last federal government shutdown of 1995-1996 withheld government services for 21 days — these numbers are going to get much worse. It’s like the congressional Tea Partiers are waving around their (misinterpreted) pocket-constitutions, madly grinning, crying out, “We’re one-third of the way in! Let’s see if we can make it to a whole month this time! Let’s host the worst party ever!”

But while the Tea Partiers have their confusing, misguided fun, the Affordable Care Act is a great example of a law that actually stops poor people from being punished for being poor, which I guess must be super disappointing to people like John Boehner and Ted Cruz — why else would they be screwing over women, the poor, babies, veterans, the elderly, and, oh, federal employees? Although the numbers of people who have signed up through the exchange are still relatively low, the fact that previously uninsured people now have a realistic option to become insured should, if anything, be great news, not a weird excuse to shut down the government.

Choice USA said it best:

“I am livid that a minority of Congresspeople… are denying essential services that they have deemed “nonessential” because they hope to continue to deny essential medical services, services that protect women and their families, young Americans, sick Americans, Americans living in poverty, Americans who want access to preventative medical care and contraception so that they can make informed choices about their lives.”  

These narrow-minded politicians are offering a “compromise,” but only at the cost to women’s health. Somehow, I’m not even surprised. Because of these important services being put on hiatus, it seems that women who head their households and the elderly are paying the highest cost right now. “Women and their families should not bear the brunt of deficit reduction,” states the NWLC. But guess what? Thanks to some extremists in Congress, they are. Because the Tea Party is so pro-life.

Keeping the government shut down over matters of reproductive rights is not a compromise, it is ending freedom. It is limiting choice in every possible legal way, all the while allowing a huge proportion of Americans to suffer from lack of services. This stubbornness has gone too far. These politicians’ actions are far more “un-American” than the socialist agenda they seem so convinced is behind progressive legislation like the Affordable Care Act. They’re impeding democracy — it doesn’t get more un-American than that.

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