We’re on Day 4 of the first federal government shutdown in 17 years. Here in D.C., the subway and the streets are noticeably emptier without thousands of federal workers on the job. And while a few might be enjoying their time off to take advantage of the shutdown-themed happy hours around town, most are worried about the financial consequences of a prolonged shutdown for themselves and their families (especially since many have already faced pay freezes and furloughs thanks to the sequester and other budget cuts).
But it’s not just the 800,000 furloughed federal workers who are affected by the shutdown. Some federal contractors won’t get paid, either – including workers making close to minimum wage who are unlikely to have much in the way of savings to fall back on. And low-income families who depend on federally funded programs are suffering, too. For example:
- The federal agency that distributes Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funds to domestic violence programs across the country announced that it will close if the shutdown lasts beyond today – meaning programs that rely on VAWA funding may soon reduce services. Many of these programs, too, have already been affected by sequester cuts that have eliminated access to recovery programs and shelters for an estimated 70, 120 victims of domestic violence.
The impact of the shutdown will be more severe the longer it lasts, but it is not at all clear when (or how) it might end. House Republican leaders have refused to put the clean temporary funding measure (known as a continuing resolution, or CR) passed by the Senate to a vote, even though the Senate bill maintains the sequester and funds the government at levels much closer to the House-passed budget plan than the Senate’s own FY 2014 budget; they forced the shutdown by demanding that provisions of the health care law (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) – which will help millions of Americans gain affordable coverage and expand women’s access to preventive services like contraception – be delayed or defunded in exchange for agreeing to keep the government running. The latest move from House Republican leaders is to agree to keep parts of the government operating, like the national parks and museums, while maintaining the shutdown elsewhere. But this piecemeal approach would ignore the impact of the shutdown on many of the most vulnerable Americans, and it is a highly irresponsible way to run a government.
It’s now past time for Congress to agree to a bill that ends the shutdown with no further strings attached – and to raise the debt ceiling, so we’re not facing a far more serious crisis in just a couple of weeks. If Congress can find a way out of the current politically created crisis, then maybe – just maybe – it can stop driving the recovery backward and begin to help women, families, and the economy move forward.