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MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Stop the Shutdown, Prevent Economic Meltdown

Marian Wright Edelman | 10/16/2013, 3 p.m.
Marian Wright Edelman (Courtesy of childrensdefense.org)

Since the government was forced to shut down on Oct. 1, one of the most common refrains has been that some members of Congress are acting like children — or, more accurately, worse than most children.

Fortunately, some of the programs families with children depend on aren’t affected by funding tied to the shutdown, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps). There are others, including many education programs, where funding has already been provided for the year. However, many other federal programs that help low-income families meet every day needs have been forced to stop operating because of the shutdown, including some of the same programs already hit hard by sequestration cuts earlier this year. Children have only one childhood. Every day that children are being denied early education and food causes lasting damage to their chances of living to their full potential.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is without its regular funding due to the shutdown, leaving at risk nearly 9 million pregnant women, recent mothers, and their children under age five who rely on the program’s supplemental vouchers for healthy food, expensive infant formula, and other necessities. Fifty-three percent of all infants born in the U.S. are fed through the WIC program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture originally estimated that state funds and contingency funds would be enough to cover only a week of nutritional supports during the shutdown. Fortunately, the Agriculture Department this week transferred unspent funding from last year to states to avoid shutdowns through the month of October — but not beyond. Some states have already stopped applications for new benefits because they are unsure of what will happen next month.

Head Start serves more than 1 million poor children, who are particularly in need of early education programs to succeed and thrive. Twenty-three Head Start programs servicing nearly 19,000 students across 10 states and Puerto Rico did not have access to federal funding on October 1 because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could not process Head Start grants as a result of the shutdown. Head Start grantees are funded on a yearly basis, and for some that grant year begins on October 1. When these programs didn’t receive their annual grants as scheduled, they were forced to close their doors and furlough their workers unless they had alternative sources of revenue.

Funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) shouldn’t have been affected by the shutdown, but because the legislation reauthorizing it was delayed along with the spending bill, states are not receiving their October federal funds. Since TANF is funded through both federal and state funds, most states should have the flexibility to continue providing benefits, and the federal government has also let states use leftover funds from previous years. But at least one state — Arizona — stopped TANF payments starting Oct. 3 to 5,200 families out of the Arizona TANF caseload of 16,300 families.