The Government Shutdown Screws Over the Poor

While I touched on the government shutdown in last week’s post, I felt that it was really important this week to dedicate a full post to the government shutdown. The task of dedicating a post to the shutdown, admittedly, was tremendously difficult because there are just so many injustices surrounding the whole debacle. There are environmental consequences of trash piling up in parks. There are national security consequences, as organizations responsible for our safety and security aren’t being paid (with all the stress, decrease in morale, and subsequent compromising of national security which comes along with the shutdown).[1] There are a lot of individuals and groups who get hurt by the shutdown.

When studying the shutdown a little more, it became quite obvious who I should focus on for this post: the poor. Why? Because if we’re honest with ourselves, those who are screwed over the most by this shutdown are the poor, whether we like to admit it or not.

For starters, government workers who are struggling to make ends meet already may find themselves without a home. This USA Today article from Christmas Day featured many a government worker (or many a government worker’s families) expressing anxiety about a potential inability to pay for basic living expenses. One of these workers even expressed anxiety about potential eviction if the government doesn’t open and back pay doesn’t kick in quickly. Members of Congress and the President will continue to get paid, but some poor government workers may end up homeless if this shutdown continues. The government shutdown screws over poor government workers who are living from paycheck to paycheck.

Additionally, tax refunds may be delayed as a result of the government shutdown.[2] The reason for this is that, as long as the government is shut down, tax refunds will not be issued at all. For people who are well off, these refunds may not be a big deal. But for people who are poor and who are living from paycheck to paycheck, it is a huge deal and it may be the difference between being able to afford the basics and not being able to afford the basics. The government shutdown screws over poor people for whom a tax refund may make a difference.

Finally, many food benefits are in danger as a result of the government shutdown, and additional food benefits will be endangered if the government shutdown drags on. For example, WIC, which is a nutrition program to help food-stressed and at-risk women and children, has already run out of funding, and it is left to local and state governments to cover for what the federal government can’t do. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which is a food program for low-income senior citizens, has suffered the same fate as WIC. If the shutdown drags on to the end of January, funding will run out for food stamps. If the shutdown drags into February, funding will run out for various child nutrition programs; this will endanger school breakfast, school lunch, summer food service, and other special programs.[3] The government shutdown royally screws over poor, food-stressed families.

Some people may not be affected severely by the government shutdown. But millions are already being severely affected by the shutdown, and the consequences will become significantly more dire for those affected the longer this shutdown goes. Most of all, though, it’s the poor who are getting screwed over the most by the incompetence in Washington, D.C.

[1] And to think that this shutdown was in the name of a “national security” issue—in other words, a border wall. Ironic, isn’t it?



A Major Lesson from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria

In recent weeks, three catastrophic hurricanes have caused mass devastation. These hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—have provided numerous lessons for people to think about.

The lesson I want to focus on for this blog post is that the United States (or at least news media in the United States) only cares about a natural disaster if it hits one or more states.

The media’s treatment of Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria is a sad example of this. Last time I checked, losses from Maria in Puerto Rico totaled $72 billion—staggering when you consider the fact that storm costs are equal to nearly three quarters of the entire territory’s GDP of just over $100 billion! A humanitarian crisis is unfolding there, a crisis that may only be rivaled by few hurricanes in our entire nation’s history. Yet, since Puerto Rico is a territory instead of a state, Harvey and Irma received wall-to-wall coverage for days while Maria only got a mention of a few minutes at most until allegations of the federal government’s neglect began to dominate headlines.

If Puerto Rico got second class media coverage from Maria, then one could only imagine how much worse the media coverage was of Maria during and after hitting Dominica. The prime minister of Dominica had to be rescued and then said that the nation “lost all that money can buy.” There are reports saying that 98% of buildings in Dominica were damaged. Dominica is also in heavy need of humanitarian help. Unfortunately, American news media has reported very little on this, and I had to turn to news sources from Trinidad and Tobago (an island nation in the same region as Dominica) in order to get consistent and reliable information on Dominica.

In terms of media coverage, places like Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, and the Bahamas suffered the same relative lack of American media coverage during Hurricane Irma, even though all these places got pounded by a Category 5 hurricane. Instead, all of the focus was on the possibility of Irma hitting Florida, not on any impacts in other parts of the world.

However, there was one thing going for media coverage of Dominica with Maria, or several Caribbean nations with Irma: they were all in the path of a hurricane that was expected to hit a U.S. state or territory. Because of that fact alone, all of these nations got at least some level of media coverage.

The same could not be said about India with the catastrophic flooding that parts of the country recently received. The flooding rains in India were not heading to a U.S. state or territory. They were not heading to Florida, Texas, or even Puerto Rico. The flooding was on the other side of the globe, and as a result I heard practically zero media coverage about it. Or, at the very least, zero coverage until I listened to the BBC, which admittedly has a stake in what’s happening in India since India is part of the British Commonwealth.

Clearly, the United States, or at the very least American media, seems to care very little about natural disasters that don’t strike one of the fifty states.

But why is the lack of focus on disasters outside of the states unjust? It is unjust because, by largely ignoring people outside of the States, a message is being sent that not all lives matter. In fact, a message has been sent that the lives of people in the States matter most, that the lives of people in territories like Puerto Rico matter a little, and that the lives of people outside of U.S. states and territories don’t matter at all.