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Government Shutdown Threatens Section 8 and Food Stamps

Two successful government programs that help lift people out of poverty and address basic needs are in danger.

The government just announced that it had funds through February, but the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could be forced to dip into reserves in March.

As we enter day 21 of the government shutdown, the ripple effects are growing across the country, with 800,000 government workers going without pay. Affected agencies are operating with skeleton crews, and that spells trouble for people counting on tax refunds and government benefits that require people in the office — and funds — to administer.

For two extremely successful government programs that help lift people out of poverty and address basic needs, this reckoning may be especially soon. And it may not come as a surprise that the Trump administration was unaware of these potential consequences of the shutdown — something the president appears determined to prolong to advance his political agenda, even at the expense of suffering Americans.

One is the housing choice program, sometimes known as Section 8, which provides financial assistance that allows low-income renters access to a greater array of housing options. The program uses vouchers to make up the difference between what renters can afford and what’s available.

While tenants who use vouchers often face discrimination, and the waitlists are sometimes long, millions of people across the U.S. count on vouchers to help them access housing.

The funding for those vouchers is running dry, though — and by February, neither the federal government nor local agencies will be able to provide financial support to tenants.

That could lead, some say, to “millions” of evictions from unsympathetic landlords. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has already warned landlords that there may be trouble in the future — but with the shutdown dragging on and no clear end in sight, landlords may not be interested in waiting.

Ninety-five percent of HUD personnel are out on unpaid furlough, with the remaining 5 percent remaining on staff to handle emergency issues. With each day of the shutdown, HUD gets further behind not just on vouchers, but also on vital programs designed to improve housing safety, affordability and accessibility.

The other problem is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — also known as food stamps — which provides financial help to nearly 40 million hungry Americans. The Department of Agriculture has nearly run out of funding for the program. The government just announced that it had funds through February, but SNAP could be forced to dip into reserves in March. The USDA is tightlipped on what kind of money might be available via that route.

Like HUD, the Department of Agriculture has nearly ground to a halt as a result of this funding battle. But while SNAP is classified as a mandatory entitlement program that will continue to run even when the administering agency is technically closed, Congress still has to fund it. This is usually a pro forma activity that involves little controversy, but in the Trump era, the status quo is never simple, making it critical to definitively resolve the funding fight.

The dangers of allowing this funding to expire can’t be overstated. Millions of people count on these programs for housing and food security, and the stress already caused by the government could result in life-altering disruptions if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal.

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