The Government Shutdown: Reading Between the Lines

By Briana Brady, Assistant Features Editor—

As I write this, the government has been shut down for 22 days—a number that has surpassed the previous record for the longest shutdown in US history. On the evening of Jan. 8, 2019, President Trump delivered an address on national television in an attempt to garner public support for his trademark promise of building a wall along the southern border of the United States, something that he ensured his voters Mexico would pay for. Throughout his presidency, he has maintained his desire for the wall and feels, as he said in his address, that walls are built in the name of “love [for] the people on the inside” and not because of “hate [for] the people on the outside.” Despite the obvious issues with the entirety of his logic and actions surrounding this claim, the consequences of the shutdown as a result of his inability to compromise on national security policy sacrifices the quality of life for many of those already inside US borders.

The realities of government shutdowns do not affect the people who are perpetuating them in the same ways that they affect federal employees relying on their next paycheck or those depending on governmental support to simply get by. CBS News reports that “If the government is not reopened before February, millions of Americans who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the nation’s food stamp program — could have their assistance disrupted.” The prospect of such an event exists because federal funding for the SNAP program needed to be renewed by Congress at the beginning of January 2019, and without it, emergency funds will not stretch to even cover two-thirds of February’s payments, according to the Washington Post. As a result, countless Americans who rely on governmental assistance for access to food could be without it for an unknown period of time and legitimately go hungry. The domino effect continues; crime rates will likely increase in accordance due to people facing “fight or flight” decisions in order to provide the basic necessities for themselves and their families. The consequences of these decisions can shape lives long-term.

Further, NBC News reports that “Public housing officials say they don’t know how long rental assistance payments will keep coming from the government, and a suspension could put millions of tenants at risk if the shutdown drags on into February.” Because a significant number of rental contracts that fall under the umbrella of the Housing and Urban Development Department were scheduled to renew on January 1st, many tenants seeking financial assistance for housing are at risk of being evicted. This threat exists because local housing authorities will not be receiving funds from the federal government to pay landlords subsidies in exchange for the affordable housing offered to the tenants. Despite letters sent by HUD to 1,500 landlords on January 4th, 2019 asking that reserve funds be used as long as possible to prevent tenants from being evicted, if the shutdown drags on, it is practically inevitable that many individuals and families relying on assistance for their housing will be left in the dark because the reserves will run out to cover their necessary costs.

These devastating examples merely scratch the surface of the host of issues created by the current government shutdown that is dragging on with no clear end in sight. In addition to the two major issues previously discussed, reports of national parks being trashed and generally lacking any maintenance, TSA agents not being able to pay for their own transportation to work, as well as the possibility of Americans not receiving their tax refunds on time are other examples of tragedies that have emerged from this shutdown. Perhaps the greatest tragedy, though, is that the majority of problems that the shutdown has caused disproportionately affect those who are already marginalized by society. Despite this, Trump threatened in a news conference to carry the shutdown on for months or even years unless he gets what he wants. Not only is his attitude representative of dishonorable leadership, the lack of ability to compromise, and abhorrent moral integrity, but it also sends a clear message to those who do not enjoy the same level of socioeconomic security as Trump and others like him: the marginalized shall be kept in the margins if it means that the powerful maintain their power.  

This should deeply outrage us all. The fact of the matter is that under certain circumstances, by a stroke of bad luck, or simply due to the cruel cycle of poverty, anyone could find themselves counting on governmental services at any given time. No one is immune to misfortune or hardship. Knowing this, it is essential that we work to build bridges between us instead of walls around us. Oh, and reopen the government.

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