THE BLOG
10/11/2013 05:39 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Stop the Shutdown, Prevent Economic Meltdown

Since the government was forced to shut
down on October 1st, one of the most common refrains has been that
some members of Congress are acting like children—or, more accurately, worse than most children. Even 5-year-olds understand that quitting the game and taking the ball home
because the other team won’t give you your way is wrong. Extremist Republicans
in the U.S. House of Representatives continue to hold funding for the federal government
hostage for the second week in a row, opposing a clean extension of government funding
without conditions. Their actions as they refuse to do their constitutionally mandated
duty are harming the economy and countless real children and families across
the country.

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 everyday needs have
been forced to stop operating due to 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 nine 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 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 one 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 1st because the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services could not process Head Start grants due to the
shutdown. Head Start grantees are funded on a yearly basis, and for some that
grant year begins on October 1st. 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. At the
end of the first week of the government shutdown, seven Head Start programs in
six states (Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi)
were closed, leaving 7,195 of our nation’s most vulnerable children without
access to Head Start. These programs were able to reopen thanks to a private
pledge of $10 million from John and Laura Arnold. Under sequestration Head
Start already had to cut 57,000 children from the program.

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 October 3rd to 5,200 families out of the Arizona
TANF caseload of 16,300 families.

As many Americans
have already learned, even life-saving research for children with serious
medical needs has been affected. The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
estimates that for every week the shutdown continues, 30 children—10 of whom
have cancer—will not be able to begin their clinical trials.

States use the $1.7 billion Social Services
Block Grant for child abuse and neglect services, child care, and other
family services, but due to the shutdown, states are not receiving their
October funds. This means some states may have to close down programs if they
don’t have alternative funds they can use.

And children of families of furloughed employees
may suffer if the furlough lasts too long. The federal government estimates
that more than 800,000 workers are being furloughed, and some state and local
government employees normally paid with federal funds are also being sent home.
This comes on top of the furloughs that many federal employees have experienced
over the past six months due to sequestration. If the shutdown lasts,
furloughed employees may experience problems paying bills and providing for
their families, especially if they are not provided retroactive pay once the
shutdown ends.

To make all of this worse, a severe economic
meltdown is predicted if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling in the next
two weeks to pay the nation’s bills and obligations. Meanwhile some members of
Congress continue to show worse “compromising” skills than spoiled toddlers. Enough
is enough. Call or email your own representative and tell them they must act now to fully fund the federal government
and raise the debt ceiling without any conditions. Tell them to stop the
shutdown and prevent an economic meltdown for the sake of our children.

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