Five Totally Avoidable Tragedies Caused by the Shutdown

We are now more than a week into the government shutdown — not to mention a week away from the country defaulting on our loans if we don’t raise the debt ceiling – and a resolution is looking less and less likely. That means that unlike earlier, services that had conditional funding or a pool of rainy day funds to work from are beginning to cease operations as their contingency plans stop working.

Now we are seeing the true impact of closing the government. From disease to poverty, it isn’t pretty. Here are five major disasters being caused by the GOP’s unwillingness to admit that the Affordable Care Act is the law and will continue regardless of their strong-arming:

1. People are getting sick. Really sick.

Salmonella outbreaks have become sadly common in the country, especially as regulations around food safety issues get increasingly lax. This latest outbreak, which involves strains that are resistant to antibiotics, has sickened nearly 300 people already, but there hasn’t been enough information yet to send out an alert because too many workers at the CDC were furloughed. Now those workers are being asked to return to work since apparently someone has finally recognized that they really are “essential.”

2. 50,000 poor people have lost access to food.

When many of us started writing about the WIC (Women Infant Children) program being in trouble, we were told we were overreacting. After all, states had extra funds for this sort of thing, so there wasn’t any real danger. But now those funds are drying up. In North Carolina, 20 percent of the state’s 250,000 voucher recipients were told that there wasn’t enough money to go around. Instead, they were referred to food pantries. There is no telling how many other states will soon be forced to follow suit.

3. Welfare payments are in doubt.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) wasn’t supposed to be in jeopardy if a shutdown happened, because states were informed that they would be reimbursed later if they went ahead and made their scheduled payments. But Arizona didn’t believe it and decided not to authorize checks, leaving 5000 residents with no money. The governor changed her mind later and allowed the state to make the payments, but the idea that welfare checks could literally be cancelled at the whim of a governor until the shutdown ends is a terrifying one.

4. Science and medicine are being put on the backburner.

The U.S. Antarctic research program has been cancelled, putting thousands out of work and ending millions of dollars of research in polar science. In the meantime all programs will be on hold and the bases will be kept open just with a skeleton staff. The National Institute of Health is continuing to cancel clinical trials, unable to enroll new patients, which could set back medical science indefinitely as well as sacrifice the health of those who could have been treated if only the funding had continued.

5. Veterans and the families of lost soldiers are suffering.

Death is always a tragedy, and losing a loved one in battle is something few of us will ever have to face. For those who have had a family member die in action recently, that sorrow is now compounded by their inability to receive the $100,000 “death benefit” that usually accompanies such a loss. The funds are usually received within 36 hours, and often allow the families to pay for funerals and other memorial expenses. Sadly, for the five families who had service members killed in Afghanistan, those funds won’t be coming.

It’s not just the fallen, either. If the shutdown isn’t resolved in the next three weeks, millions of veterans will lose their benefits, including the 300,000 retired military personnel and 200,000 military spouses who will lose their pension payments.

All of these issues could easily be avoided if the GOP would stop holding the government hostage, especially since they are fighting to deny the American people the right to access affordable health care.