Urban Wire How the shutdown affects poor women and children
Erika Huber, Theresa Anderson
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The ongoing federal government shutdown has already affected two important safety net programs that primarily serve low-income women and children: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Neither program has received regular federal funding since the shutdown began on October 1. Though many states have been able to cover the gap temporarily and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deployed emergency funds for WIC, the situation will only worsen as the impasse continues.

The immediate impact on WIC was buffered by USDA guidance and assistance

WIC provides assistance for families to purchase formula and food to promote nutrition for low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women; infants; and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk. In 2012, WIC helped to feed 8.7 million women, infants, and children living in households with incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline, providing an average food benefit worth about $45 per person per month. In 2009, half of all infants and a quarter of young children, pregnant women, and mothers received WIC benefits.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) negotiated with some states—such as Alabama— before the shutdown, allowing those states to use funds from the previous fiscal year to keep offices open. After the government shut down, FNS informed other states that were operating with state funds that those states could use unspent federal funds to support the program. (Under normal circumstances, states must return unspent WIC funds to the federal government at the beginning of the new federal fiscal year.)

Some states, such as Utah, did not have sufficient funding left from the previous fiscal year to keep the program running. Utah closed its WIC offices in the first days of the shutdown but was able to reopen them when FNS issued the state $2.5 million in one-time emergency contingency funds. In all, FNS released $125 million in contingency funds to states that could not support their WIC programs.

Though the immediate blow of the shutdown has been buffered by emergency resources, few states will have sufficient funds to keep WIC running after October. Some states expect the funds to be exhausted even sooner; Michigan, for example, estimates that its remaining WIC funding will only last 10 days, and Wyoming and Vermont estimate that they have only two weeks’ worth of funding left. In all, these three states provided WIC to 316,500 women, infants, and children in 2012.

TANF funding is even more precarious

TANF provides cash assistance to low-income families, most of whom are single mothers with children. In 2012, 4.4 million individuals—including 3.3 million children—received cash benefits from TANF. The average benefit across all states was $440 per month.

While WIC has received temporary support from the federal government, TANF has not. On September 30, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced that no new funding would be available for TANF in the event of a government shutdown. Technically, program authorization expired at midnight that day, meaning states would have to rely on leftover funding from the previous fiscal year to continue to serve their residents.

Some states will continue to operate normally in October, but are uncertain (and uneasy) beyond that. Others are less optimistic. For example, Michigan only has two weeks of TANF funding available. After that, approximately 105,000 people—two-thirds of whom are children—could stop receiving benefits.

Arizona’s situation is even more dire. Due to the shutdown, the state has suspended all TANF benefit payments as of October 3, cutting off assistance to 40,000 people, including 28,000 children.

As the shutdown continues, poor women and children will increasingly--and disproportionately--be affected.

Research Areas Social safety net
Tags Fiscal policy Poverty Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Welfare and safety net programs Hunger and food assistance Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Tracking the economy Public and private investment Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Unemployment and unemployment insurance Inequality and mobility