For the second straight week, countless working families continue to be held hostage as the U.S. House of Representatives prolongs the federal government shutdown for an extreme ideological agenda. It is unconscionable that the nations most vulnerable populations, who are barely holding on, are again the hardest-hit casualties of another logjam in Congress. U.S. House members can end the shutdown and restore much-needed services to struggling families by simply passing a spending plan for 2014, without conditions.
While a number of critical safety-net initiatives are at risk in the current crisis, one of the most important involves the WIC program. Some families enrolled in North Carolinas WIC nutrition program for new mothers and young children are no longer able to receive food vouchers due to the federal government shutdown. It is hard to fathom families being turned away from nutritional support and forced to go to bed hungry with little warning because the U.S. House is unwilling to pass a budget that invests in our future.
Even though state officials were able to use leftover funds from the last fiscal year and temporary federal dollars to plug the hole left by the government shutdown, funding still fell short of what is required to keep the WIC program operating for all families in need. This means that many mothers and at-risk infants and toddlers will be shut off from nutritious foods, counseling on healthy eating and health care referrals. And now it appears likely that funding for child care subsidies, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and senior services are at risk. In fact, child care subsidies are slated to end as early as Friday in at least one county.
There is no question that the blame for this hurt falls solely on the shoulders of federal lawmakers in the U.S. House who are putting our state policymakers in a tough spot. But rather than turning vulnerable families away from the services that they desperately need, state legislators can immediately ease some of the economic pain by dipping into the states Rainy Day Fund.
Lets not forget that this disturbing news comes just one month after Gov. Pat McCrory declared September Hunger Action Month due to the high number of low-income families who have trouble affording food. It also follows the new release of poverty data confirming that children under 5 years old who are eligible for the WIC program continue to be the poorest Tar Heels of any age group. The poverty rates skyrocket for children of color under 5 years old.
Vulnerable North Carolinians have faced a series of setbacks over the last few months, beginning with across-the-board sequestration cuts to social programs in March that have been intensified by the recent government shutdown. Some pundits would like residents to believe the ongoing shutdown is merely a slim down, but the widespread pain tells a much different story. The shutdown is also compounding the sting of the new state budget and recently enacted state-level policies that are falling hard on working families.
It doesnt have to be this way. The U.S. House should pass a spending plan for 2014, without conditions, that includes a responsible mix of new revenue and smart spending cuts that supports the economy and does not grow poverty. Doing so will provide relief to families who dont know where their next meal will come from and others who are worried about staying on the job if funding for child care subsidies runs out.
Tazra Mitchell is a public policy analyst at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Raleigh.