Local and state legislators breathed a collective sigh of relief as Congress inched closer to reopening the federal government. Washington lawmakers got most of the headlines, but the impact of their actions was deeply felt back at home.
Mothers and children, who depend on welfare, WIC and food stamps and other benefits, were among the most vulnerable in states across the nation. This week, North Carolina announced plans to halt November welfare benefits because its program was fully funded by the federal government. Other states feared they would soon follow suit.
“I heard from a local homeless shelter in Irvington, New Jersey, that is struggling to provide for the overwhelming amount of homeless new mothers. These are new mothers who can’t feed their babies now that their WIC benefits have been cut off. Because of the government shutdown, homeless shelters across New Jersey are running low on baby formula, diapers and food to feed these mothers and their newborn babies," said New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne Jr. on the House floor. "The pain I see in my district is very real, and it could get a whole lot worse."
The longer the government remained closed, he added, the more likely it would become that "one-and-a-half million people in New Jersey may not get their Social Security checks and 50,000 disabled veterans in New Jersey may not get their medical bills paid."
In addition to literally taking food out of the mouth of babes, the shutdown cost struggling cities much-needed revenues. In Philadelphia, where the public school system experienced this year its worst economic crisis, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall were closed.
"Tourism is a significant component of the economy of Philadelphia. It's an economic hit. It's also about people not working, so our economies again will take an economic hit. During this period when folks aren't working, taxes won't be collected," Mayor Michael Nutter told BET.com.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that African-Americans in her city were experiencing a great deal of anxiety.
"When you depend on WIC benefits, food stamp benefits and you see everyday a dysfunctional government, there is an insecurity that builds because you know that your livelihood is in jeopardy. And it's made vulnerable because of political games," she said.
Baltimore, she added, is home to more elderly and poor people in Maryland, "and they're afraid."
Nutter agreed and noted that seven million African-Americans will receive health care when the Affordable Care Act is fully in place and efforts to prevent them from enjoying that benefit also cause stress.
"This country is about taking care of its people and we're not seeing that on a day-to-day basis," he said. "So African-Americans, and I think all Americans, are experiencing a level of anxiety. The prospect of default and further cost in terms of the financial markets, interest rates, etc., are damaging the world view but also the national psyche."
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(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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