Millions at Risk of Losing Food Assistance in Government Shutdown

by Ella

As the struggle over federal spending unfolds in Capitol Hill, the potential repercussions of a government shutdown extend far beyond Washington, D.C., with implications for critical services ranging from air travel to public health to national parks and food assistance.

House Republicans are facing challenges in passing the spending measures required to prevent a government shutdown past the upcoming Saturday deadline. Among the far-reaching consequences, a government shutdown could jeopardize food assistance programs affecting millions of Americans.


The Biden administration has issued warnings, highlighting that a government shutdown could imperil essential nutrition assistance for nearly seven million individuals who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).


WIC provides essential support, including nutritious food, nutrition education, breastfeeding assistance, and other resources, to low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as children up to the age of 5. This program serves nearly half of all infants born in the United States and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).


In the event of a government shutdown, the USDA would be unable to provide these critical benefits, leading to the potential denial of assistance for WIC beneficiaries. The White House cautioned that in an event of an “Extreme Republican Shutdown,” women and children relying on WIC could soon face difficulties at grocery store checkouts, with federal contingency funds depleting rapidly and many states grappling with limited WIC funds to sustain the program.


A breakdown provided by the White House outlines the number of WIC recipients in each state at risk of losing assistance, with California (972,418), Texas (786,686), and Florida (421,294) topping the list.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized that the majority of WIC beneficiaries could face an immediate halt to their access to the program, occurring within a matter of days.

Depending on the duration of a potential shutdown, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may also be affected, Vilsack noted. According to the USDA, SNAP would continue normal operations through October.

Vilsack urged lawmakers to consider the real-life consequences of their actions on the health of millions of mothers and children, emphasizing the devastating impact of government shutdowns on ordinary Americans who rely on programs like WIC.

Beyond WIC, a government shutdown could disrupt food access and nutrition along the entire supply chain. Farmers, in particular, are at risk, as many depend on marketing loans to hedge crop prices. The shutdown could lead them to accept market prices and potentially incur losses that could impact the financial viability of their farms.

Additionally, a government shutdown would delay the reauthorization of the U.S. Farm Bill, which occurs every five years and is set to expire on Saturday. While key farming and social safety net programs have mandatory funding to continue for the foreseeable future, the legislation’s consistency and certainty are essential for farmers, and Congress relies on USDA expertise for drafting it.

Food safety also raises concerns. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the majority of the U.S. food supply, and a former FDA Deputy Commissioner, Frank Yiannas, warned that a shutdown could hinder proactive inspections, impacting food safety efforts.

Furthermore, a government shutdown could disrupt the delivery of healthy food to vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly. Free and reduced lunch programs nationwide would be halted, and federal payments to Meals on Wheels would face delays, potentially leading to service reductions or suspensions.

The leaders of Meals on Wheels and the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs cautioned in a joint statement that “a shutdown of any length could severely impact our nation’s most vulnerable older adults facing hunger and isolation.”

Secretary Vilsack emphasized the tangible impact of government shutdowns on individuals, from pregnant mothers in need of WIC assistance to young couples at risk of losing their homes due to delayed USDA home loans. He called on policymakers to acknowledge the real consequences of reckless and unnecessary shutdowns, urging them to fulfill their responsibilities without putting millions at risk.



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