By Estelle Mitchell and Natalee Dawson, National Women’s Law Center
Well, folks, we are officially in week five of the government shutdown. With what appears to be no end in sight, it’s time to highlight the very real effects it is having on women, families, our communities, and everyone in between.
Let’s start with what thousands are facing right now: as of December 22nd, 2018, 380,000 federal workers are furloughed and 420,000 are working without pay. This amounts to more than $2 billion of pay lost every two weeks that the Trump shutdown continues. And we know that women and families are among many of those feeling the pain—about 45 percent of federal workers are women.
While hundreds of thousands of federal workers are not getting paid, the bills continue to come in. Right now, a significant number of women are struggling to pay rent or afford their child care needs. When federal workers with children have to go to work without being paid, this makes affording child care extremely difficult. This places another burden on child care workers—most of whom are women—who may want to help federal workers but cannot themselves afford a delayed payment.
The impact of the shutdown, however, extends far beyond the immediate federal workers impacted. For example, there are also roughly 4.1 million federal contractors, many of whom are also not being paid during the shutdown. And while after previous government shutdowns Congress has passed legislation providing back pay to unpaid federal workers, this has typically not been the case for federal contractors. Therefore, millions of workers will likely not receive back pay for these weeks—and perhaps months—out of work.
This is a very real fear for many federal government contractors. My dad recently started a new job as a contractor for NASA, which falls within the purview of the Department of Homeland Security’s budget. He’s been out of work, without pay, since the shutdown began. And let me tell you—“adjusting” to completely losing your salary is much easier said than done, Mr. President. But my dad is just one of the thousands of workers living with the worry and anxiety of wondering how much longer they will have to go without a paycheck.
On top of the thousands of federal workers affected and the communities that depend on them to stay in business, we can’t forget all of those who turn to various public programs, who face a reduction or delay in benefits because of the Trump shutdown.
While the government is shut down, public housing operations are slowed, and those on waiting lists are stuck there for the time being. Over a thousand contracts have not been renewed, and we don’t even have an exact number because the workers who would keep track of that kind of thing are…you know, furloughed. Additionally, any kind of strain on housing assistance would have a particularly harsh impact on women, as they make up 51% of all HUD-assisted one-bedroom units and 53% of all two-bedroom units. Now, it looks like a whole lot of people—those with the lowest incomes, many of whom are elderly—will be in danger of eviction if the government isn’t back up and running next month. That would be unconscionable, and it can’t be allowed to happen. Full stop.
Domestic violence shelters
Domestic violence (“DV”) shelters are feeling the financial squeeze from the shutdown and are being forced to “cobble together funds” in order to keep their doors open. This is particularly troubling considering that over 40,000 victims of domestic violence seek out these shelters per day. A shelter in West Virginia was forced to cut extra spending and client expenses in order to brace for the loss of its regular stream of federal grant money due to the shutdown. These cuts left women “scrounging for meals,” and the shelter ran out of milk for a few days. Mothers had to use towels pinned to their children as the shelter also ran out of the smallest-sized diapers. And at this same shelter, more than two dozen women trying to escape potentially life-threatening situations sit on a waiting list.
On January 18th, the Department of Justice gave shelters a slight reprieve and extended shelter funding until March 1st, allowing shelters and other DV programs to remain open during the shutdown. However, given that the shutdown has no end in sight, this is not a sufficient solution to meet long-term needs. Especially considering that even when the government is open and functioning, over 11,000 victims’ requests for services can go unmet every day. Millions of people, across all 50 states, depend on domestic violence shelters. The longer this shutdown goes on, the more uncertainty victims will face.
Other programs feeling the effects of the Trump Shutdown
Every day, this shutdown continues to harm low-income families and anyone—seniors, people with disabilities, women, children—who depends on critical public benefits.
Over sixty percent of adult recipients of SNAP were women in 2016. SNAP recipients haven’t seen an interruption to their benefits so far, and we’re hopeful that it will stay that way—the Department of Health and Human Services just added SNAP funds to accounts this week to prevent individuals and families from going without in February. However, if the shutdown stretches too far into next month, it’s likely that SNAP’s coffers will be empty, and those who rely on it to feed their families may face a harrowing gap until the government reopens. But if you or your loved ones rely on SNAP, please don’t let this hypothetical deter you from continuing to apply for benefits. You have a right to food security.
The USDA managed to find funding to secure WIC benefits through next month, which is good news for the 8 million women and children who receive food assistance and breastfeeding support through the program. When it comes time for funds to be sent to the states, furloughed government workers will head back into offices to process that money. As with SNAP, however, March is a big ol’ question mark. And since the FDA has cut back on its inspections of certain “low priority” foods, pregnant and parenting people are being advised to be “especially diligent” as they feed themselves and their families.
This afternoon, the Senate voted against two bills that would have opened the government. Both bills needed 60 votes to pass.
The first, the Trump/McConnell proposal, was voted down 50 to 47. It was filled with poison pills that would have further harmed immigrant families. Not to mention the fact that it would have put current DACA-recipients at risk of deportation. This bill was extortion, not a compromise, and we applaud the Senate for rejecting it.
The second, House-passed bill was voted down 51 to 44. It would have opened and funded the government through February 8th, provided disaster relief, and prevented any money from going toward the President’s unnecessary, wasteful border wall. It is extremely disheartening and disappointing that 44 Republican senators chose to put Trump’s temper tantrum over thousands of unpaid federal workers, contractors, and their families and communities.
President Trump is hoping that we’ll forget how we got here, and that’s why it’s our job to remember. Millions of women and their families across the country find their livelihoods in peril due to the President’s investment in the racist optical illusion of a border wall. The reality is that families are suffering, and the blame belongs at Trump’s feet. The shutdown has to end—and it has to end without funding for a bigoted campaign promise.
Once again, if you are a recipient of any of the above benefits, don’t let Trump’s dangerous exercise deter you from continuing to apply. Congress can end this record-breaking nightmare. Now is the time to put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to end this disastrous shutdown. So, call your senator or member of Congress today and tell them to open the government immediately – without funding for a wall.