On Friday, President Donald Trump signaled that the shutdown of the federal government could last “months or even years.” If that happens, the people who stand to lose the most are America’s poorest families who rely on government assistance to get by.
Food stamps are one such program that is currently at risk. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it has enough funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the month of January, it does not have sufficient funds to cover all of February. That means some 38 million families who rely on SNAP could go entirely without assistance that month. Additionally, other programs that help feed the elderly as well as mothers and children could be affected.
It is possible these benefits could continue during a prolonged shutdown because SNAP has been authorized through the farm bill for the next five years. But the Trump administration doesn’t even want to discuss potential effects on SNAP because, according to a USDA employee who spoke to HuffPost, “doing so would highlight the shutdown’s harm to struggling Americans instead of furloughed government employees.”
But losing SNAP benefits is not the only way America’s working poor are being affected by the shutdown. People who rely on public housing could also suffer because the Department of Housing and Urban Development has suspended routine enforcement activities such as mandatory health and safety inspections of housing for low-income families, seniors, and the disabled, NBC News reports. And rental assistance payments could cease if the shutdown continues into February.
“Some of the money goes to housing for the most vulnerable households in this country,” one California HUD employee told NBC News. “If there is the smallest glitch in the process, there’s going to be a problem. We work day in and day out to resolve these problems.”
With 95 percent of HUD employees furloughed, emergency services, including housing for the homeless are also not functioning. And there has been little guidance from the Trump administration on how the agency should be functioning during the shutdown.
“Previous administrations have had calls with industry stakeholders, saying, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen,’” said Ellen Lurie Hoffman, federal policy director of the nonprofit National Housing Trust, told NBC. “None of that happened before this shutdown.”
Another way the working poor could be hard hit is through their tax refund. During a shutdown, the Wall Street Journal reports, the IRS will accept payments, but refunds are not typically given. Considering a tax refund is many Americans’ biggest financial windfall of the year, that could mean serious consequences.