When The Government Shuts Down, The Poor Pay The Price

As we near the end of 2013, the nation continues to battle over government spending. The first week of October has marked a significant climax in that battle. On October 1st, two monumental occurrences further catapulted a number of poverty related issues into the national spotlight.

With the opening of the insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act and the first  shutdown of the federal government in 17 years, the United States is transitioning into what is likely to be a challenging new year. The government shutdown is cited as an attempt to defund the ACA which launched healthcare enrollment on the 1st of the month.

Even though the  ACA does have a number of limitations that may prevent a significant proportion of poor Americans from accessing healthcare,McSilverType3 the legislation still stands to provide a number of individuals with the opportunity to access care. Continued debate and political opposition surrounding the ACA further highlights the desire to decrease funding to government programs created to aid Americans whether they are considered impoverished or not.

Although the shutdown will not likely  lead to defunding of the already passed ACA, the effort still communicates the message that spending cuts to programming designed to provide Americans with services will continue to be brutally attacked by the 112th Congress. Among those programs are a number of them designed to provide the poor with assistance to meet their basic needs.

One such program continuously facing funding cut assaults is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) commonly referred to as food stamps. On  September 19th the house voted to cut billions of dollars from the food stamps program. States are also moving forward with their own cuts to the program regardlesse of whether or not the proposals to deeply cut food stamps funding on the federal level will actually move forward. A number of states are already implementing  state level cuts to food stamps and other safety net funding.

While political debate and action geared towards dismantling the safety net continue to remain in a state of flux, the efforts will continue to be harmful to the poor. Political actions, such as shutting down the federal government, create further obstacles the poor must navigate through in order to meet their basic needs.

By cutting funding to food stamps and creating slowdowns in agencies designed to distribute services such as  access to WIC, which enables mothers to feed their children and care for themselves during pregnancy, the poor continue to bear the heavy weight of  government supported burdens.

Direct Service Implications


Providers whose clients receive government benefits should be cognizant of the cuts their clients’ benefits will be facing. Clients may not understand why or how their benefits have been reduced, and providers should be ready to help clients understand the reductions they’re facing and connect them to resources that can help fill new, unanticipated gaps. Especially in light of cuts to SNAP benefits, providers should be ready to help connect clients to other sources of food, such as food banks and meal programs.

With the opening of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, millions of Americans who previously had no way to access insurance will have the option of purchasing plans. Providers should be familiar with the basics of what the ACA can do for clients as well as the basics of how it operates and should be ready to answer client questions, as well as help them navigate the exchanges if necessary. Providers should also be aware that many clients will not be eligible for the exchanges if clients make less than 133% of the federal poverty level and live in a state that did not choose to expand Medicaid. In addition to resourcing clients who qualify for insurance on the new exchanges, providers should be ready to address client concerns clinically, particularly those of clients who may not be eligible for benefits they expected to receive.

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.


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  1. Jack Carney Sr., DSW Jack Carney October 12, 2013
  2. Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D Charles E. Lewis, Jr. October 12, 2013

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