Shutdown = war on workers, poor

Media headlines did not convey the human toll of the federal government shutdown. Congressional rightists’ 16-day action affected millions of people, especially those with low incomes, depriving them of essential programs and benefits. These reactionaries are all too eager to cruelly gut, even eliminate safety net services for poor and working people.

Each day, as the crisis went on, more women, children, seniors, and jobless and underpaid workers — many in African-American, Latino/a and other oppressed communities — lost services. Federally funded programs, including several that are life-sustaining, were reduced, causing great hardship. This is in addition to government sequestration cuts — with more coming.

Paychecks were issued to the congressional culprits who caused the crisis. Funding continued for national security surveillance, military occupations abroad and drones. Billions of dollars kept flowing to the Pentagon war chest, while children were kept home from preschool and seniors were left hungry.

The Women, Infants and ­Chil­dren nutrition program is relied on by 9 million pregnant women, new mothers and children under 5, including 2 million infants. This federal program has agencies in every state, but Congress must annually approve grants. The shutdown stopped its funding; its coffers held only $125 million, not the $7 billion — equal to $7,000 million — needed. Utah and six other states refused new enrollees, while some funds for at-risk babies were uncertain. Some states closed WIC offices; some stores wouldn’t accept WIC vouchers.

Head Start programs provide education, health and nutrition services to 1 million low-income children. On top of the 57,000 children dropped from the program by sequestration cuts, the National Head Start Association says the shutdown kept 19,000 more out of preschool. Some 23 programs in 11 states didn’t receive funding. Florida, for one, closed several centers.

Washington stopped funding ­Temp­orary Assistance for Needy Families, which allocates cash benefits to 4 million people. Arizona halted checks to the poorest families, but due to community and advocacy groups’ pressure they were reinstated four days later. North Carolina cut off these benefits, which mostly pay for children’s meals.

Meals on Wheels, which provides nutritious food to low-income seniors, was first hit by a 6 percent sequestration funding reduction. Then, the shutdown stopped funds entirely, jeopardizing Senior Nutrition Programs and causing hungry seniors to be turned away or put on waiting lists.

This newspaper heard reports from around the country from people who hadn’t received their TANF checks, whose food stamp cards weren’t usable or whose Section 8 subsidized housing funds hadn’t come through.

2,000 women’s shelters defunded

Washington stopped federal grants for 2,000 domestic violence programs. Some shelters, struggling to stay open, obtained community donations, while others closed or turned away emergency callers. Although 64,000 requests come in each day for help, 10,000 more go unanswered.

“Even before sequestration,” stressed National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill, “80 percent of shelters nationwide [got] less funding from the government.” She added that sequestration meant a $20 million reduction in funding, which would result in 70,120 fewer women accessing recovery programs and shelters. More budget cuts are feared, just as more women seek help during the continuing economic crisis.

The National Institutes of Health normally enrolls 200 new patients a week for experimental treatment for life-threatening diseases, including 30 children, 10 with cancer. During the shutdown, the NIH had to turn away new patients. A father rightfully asked the National Priorities Project, “If even one kid can’t get cancer treatment, isn’t that enough to end the shutdown?” (Oct. 17)

Drug treatment and mental health services were also disrupted. Some applications for disability ­benefits were delayed, or not processed, including veterans’ claims, because no staff was at work.

Not all government employees are guaranteed back pay while furloughed, including underpaid employees who work for contractors. Mailroom workers, many of them people with disabilities, are in this awful situation. These workers, like many others, struggle to pay their bills, dependent on every paycheck.

The right wing has vociferously demanded that adult food stamp recipients work, even in high-unemployment areas. Yet the shutdown severed funding to employment training programs for these jobless workers, who could lose their food benefits because of this absurdity.

Federal agencies are ­responsible for workplace and environmental ­safety. Due to the enforced absences of ­Occupational Safety and Health Agency workers, no job site inspections occurred. None happened at toxic-waste sites either, as Environmental ­Protection Agency employees were also furloughed.

The Mine Safety and Health ­Administration stopped its inspections, too. Three mineworkers died during the shutdown’s first week. United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said: “Safety violations that would normally be caught and corrected [during] inspections are being missed. Even the smallest violations … can lead to dangerous conditions very quickly in a coal mine.” (Huffington Post, Oct. 8)

The Food and Drug Administration stopped food plant inspections, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced its monitoring of food-borne and other ­illnesses.

Another similar governmental shutdown would further endanger essential services for working-class and low-income communities. Progressive forces active in every community, in every struggle and in every state must fight back against these cruel attacks and the rightists’ concurrent racism and anti-poor bigotry. A decent quality of life must be guaranteed to all.