Editor’s note: This story was written several hours before the U.S. government shutdown ended late Wednesday.
By Meghan Eldridge
DES MOINES, Iowa — As the government shutdown casts its shadow on the nation, poor and hungry people are feeling the effects in visceral ways.
Employment opportunities for government workers and programs that serve the poor and hungry, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) face uncertainty. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is just one of those programs that has been shut down as a result of government indecision.
While renting a car in Texas, David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a non-profit organization urging the nation’s leaders to end hunger, encountered a woman whose daughter was unable to receive dental care despite a painful toothache. The clinic where she took her child is currently not accepting payments through CHIP, the only form of medical insurance the girl has. Her mother said she had given her child Tylenol, but the pain persisted.
“Poor people who are relying on those services don’t have other options,” Beckmann said. “When you think about a little girl with a toothache, it seems pretty severe.”
Unemployment in the United States is currently at 7.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Policy uncertainty at the federal level accounts for at least 1 percent of that figure, Beckmann said Wednesday during a news conference at The World Food Prize.
“The government shutdown and financial crisis is a real challenge to hungry and poor people,” Beckmann said. “Even though the risks are very high, the government has had a very difficult time moving forward.”
Beckmann and Bread for the World advocate an end to the shutdown with a new budget that will replace the current budget plan, cause only minor budget cuts and create new sources of funding. Bread for the World is opposed to cuts to programs aiding the poor.
“Bread for the World is opposed to any cuts to SNAP,” Beckmann said. “When you have an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, now is not the time to cut SNAP.”
The government needs to increase the efficiency of funds appropriated for food aid to developing countries, Beckman said. If the food aid program were updated, the United States could help feed two to four million more people, he said. He hopes federal food aid will be a subject of discussion in budget talks in the coming days and weeks.
“This is just a no-brainer thing to do,” Beckmann said. “It doesn’t make sense to appropriate food aid to the world’s poor if we don’t do it efficiently.”
The United States can get a lot more done with the same dollars, he said.
Bread for the World is urging supporters to write letters to their congressional representatives urging an end to the shutdown and progress toward ending hunger nationally and internationally.
“Enough is enough,” Beckmann said. “It is really time for all responsible members of Congress to make sure the government is open and to not let a few members stand in the way. If we fail to get an agreement, it will be bad news for all of us, and certainly for the poor.”