A Government Shutdown Would Hurt Workers and Poor the Most

The immediate threat of a U.S. government shutdown that emerged in late September has been avoided for now. However, the short-term funding extension extends only through mid-November and the threat of lost wages for millions of workers and suspension of important services for millions of families continues to loom.

Consequences could be disastrous for federal workers and their families and the millions who rely on government assistance if Congress fails to pass necessary funding bills. All “non-essential” activities of the government would be paused, meaning that hundreds of thousands of workers would be prohibited from working and earning their wages. An additional several hundred thousand would be required to work for free while their wages are delayed until after a shutdown ends.

Alongside a dire interruption to these working people’s paychecks, the seven million mothers and children who rely on food assistance from the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), including half of all babies born in the United States, would have their benefits cut off within days. Food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may last slightly longer, but could also be affected depending on how long a potential shutdown lasts. New applicants to Medicare and Medicaid could be turned away, taxpayers expecting their annual refunds from the IRS would be left waiting, and closures at the Department of Agriculture could wreak havoc on access to the country’s food supply.

While the federal government writes off these workers and services as “non-essential,” millions of people would be left unable to pay their bills and would face very real suffering. Food banks across the country were stretched to the limit during the last shutdown in 2018 and many expect to dip into emergency funding to meet demand if the pending shutdown occurs.

President Biden, other Democrat politicians, and the Republican Party are all taking advantage of the potential crisis to benefit their own interests, each finding new ways to claim that they are not to blame. Biden is using the shutdown as a talking point to entice donors at his fundraisers, while mainstream Republicans blame the extreme-right for the controversy, and vice versa.

Workers’ paychecks and federal assistance to low-income families are essential! It’s unacceptable for the president and the wealthy members of Congress to use the threat of hunger and impoverishment of millions as a political bargaining chip. Our ability to eat and pay rent should be something we can rely on, not a tool for strategic maneuvering!