As is often the case, the people most negatively impacted by governmental failures are the ones who can least afford the setback. The current government shutdown is no exception.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is considered “non-essential,” allowing it to be shut down, effective yesterday. Nearly 9 million low-income women and their children rely on this program for food, nutritional information and health care referrals. (Since when is food “non-essential” to survival?) That includes breastfeeding support and infant formula, including specialized formula for children with illnesses or allergies, which isn’t readily available elsewhere.
Fifty-three percent of U.S. infants rely on WIC to meet their full nutritional needs. With mothers most often assuming primary parenting responsibilities, this leaves millions of women without options. Utah’s WIC program was the first to shut down yesterday, sacrificing 65,000 residents in need of nutrition assistance. While states will be permitted to tap into additional funding that could sustain them through October, future funding remains uncertain.
Additionally, more than 20 Head Start programs have already been shut down, with more expected if the shutdown drags on. Again, this primarily devastates women, not only with the loss of educational and other services for their children, but also with the last-minute need for child care in the absence of a caregiver.
It’s not just low-income women who will feel the pinch. Federally funded domestic violence shelters may be at risk of losing reimbursement for their services, along with youth-serving organizations and state coalitions that receive federal sexual assault prevention funds.
While Republicans and Democrats play a dangerous game of chicken, it’s the most vulnerable women who suffer.