The government shutdown is well into its second week and no clear solution is emerging for raising the debt ceiling. Experts agree that defaulting on our debt would produce dire consequences, but it’s hard to say with precision how any given individual might suffer.
Amid this uncertainty, it’s valuable to keep in mind a small list of the ways in which the government supports vulnerable people every day. These are my colleagues’ perspectives on a range of government support programs, some well-known, others not:
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is our modern conception of welfare and, as it turns out, TANF is widely misunderstood.
- WIC—the food-aid program for low-income mothers and children—ends up helping to feed half of all infants and nearly a quarter of all mothers.
- Just nine days in, the shutdown is already compromising TANF and WIC benefits.
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) feeds millions of low-income people each month, and it faces potential cuts even though it worked exactly as designed through the Great Recession.
- Children benefit from a diverse array of government spending, from health and nutrition to education and childcare.
- And evidence is mounting that failing to raise kids out of poverty is costly in the long run.
- A variety of mobility and incentive-based government programs helps low-income people afford decent housing, though even in normal fiscal times they could work better.
- In some of the most desperately poor neighborhoods, researchers are experimenting with multi-generational “wrap-around” service models.
- But the sequester and other budget cuts threaten these innovative programs.
- Many out-of-work or low-income workers benefit from government job-search and training assistance.
- Expired emergency-spending programs are no longer ameliorating the growing long-term unemployment crisis.
- Newly released federal resources will support a $300 million revitalization effort for Detroit in the face of its bankruptcy this summer.
While not all of this support is immediately threatened by the current government showdowns, it’s clear that many of our most vulnerable stand to lose if things go dramatically awry.
Illustration by Tim Meko,