The Poor Pay The Price: A Policy Brief

In the Spotlight

Headlines from the first week of October have stressed that the government shutdown would specifically impact programs designed to aid poor and vulnerable populations. This is no longer simply speculative.

As the government remains shut down for another week, the repercussions are hitting the poor the hardest. The shutdown has already prevented children from entering  Head Start preschools, and has begun to block women from accessing nutritional assistance, as well as access to government-funded  domestic violence shelters.

While the fallout of the government shutdown further highlights the needs of the poor, it also brings into question the ideologies that McSilverType3impact poverty policy. What do the recent actions of the House Republicans, including the government shutdown, say about how lawmakers view poverty?

In an article published last month in the New Yorker, contributor Jonathan Chait explores the distaste House Republicans have for social programs. Chait points out that House Republicans’ support for cutting spending in the Farm Bill specifically and purposefully targets the component of the bill that provides subsidies for the poor or SNAP benefits. Food stamp (SNAP) benefits are just one portion of the food-related subsidies allocated by the Farm Bill. Included in the bill are agricultural subsidies which provide money to businesses that produce food. The GOP has not proposed any cuts in subsidies to food producers who, disproportionately, are wealthier, white Americans.

According to Chait, the desired changes in the Farm Bill exemplify the GOP’s habit of promoting actions that disproportionately favor wealthy white Americans. Such actions further contribute to the gaps in economic and racial equality which continue to become more disparate.

The notion that political players, who are themselves disproportionately white and wealthy, intentionally target programs based on their desire to limit the resources going towards vulnerable minority populations is nothing new. While what Chait suggests may highlight one area in which politics continues to be impacted by institutionalized racism, he is identifying just one complicated issue surrounding poverty.

Perhaps the force driving the GOP to slash aid to the poor extends beyond the politics of race or a desire to reduce the government deficit. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times questions whether or not rich people just care lessnaturally. According to the article, a growing body of research suggests that the more social power one has, the less skill at expressing empathy one will have compared to those with little social power.

While questions about what drives the desire to take away services from the poor are difficult to answer, they are necessary to contemplate. Without an understanding of the complicated identity of poverty, lawmakers will continue to be able to create policy and take actions to further discriminate against the poor.

Direct Service Implications

With the continued government shutdown, clients may be looking at a continued inability to access SNAP benefits and thereby feed their families. Providers should continue to resource clients around food banks, food pantries and places at which they can obtain hot meals. In light of the funding cuts being experienced by domestic violence shelters, providers working in domestic violence settings should emphasize safety planning more strongly in their interactions with clients, as they may be unable to safely direct clients to the shelter system. Providers whose clients have young children should expect to see those children in the office, as Head Start programs are not currently operative, and should make arrangements and concessions for clients who must either bring their children to service sites or are unable to attend scheduled appointments due to the absence of child care. Finally, seeing the effect on these policies on clients could be difficult for providers. Providers should seek supervision and take time for self-care in order to process what they are witnessing.


When The Government Shuts Down, The Poor Pay The Price was originally posted by the McSilver Institute of Poverty Policy and Research with permission granted by all parties.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles listed in the Policy News Briefs are not necessarily the views of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research or NYU’s Silver School of Social Work. If you have comments or suggestions about this service, contact us at 212-998-5937 or simply reply to this email.

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