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Child Watch® Column: "Stop the Shutdown, Prevent Economic Meltdown"

Release Date: October 11, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

Since the government was forced to shut down on October 1st one of the most common refrains has been that some members of Congress are acting like children—or, more accurately, worse than most children. Even five-year-olds understand that quitting the game and taking the ball home because the other team won’t give you your way is wrong. Extremist Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives continue to hold funding for the federal government hostage for the second week in a row, opposing a clean extension of government funding without conditions. Their actions as they refuse to do their constitutionally mandated duty are harming the economy and countless real children and families across the country.

Fortunately, some of the programs families with children depend on aren’t affected by funding tied to the shutdown, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps). There are others, including many education programs, where funding has already been provided for the year. However, many other federal programs that help low income families meet everyday needs have been forced to stop operating due to the shutdown, including some of the same programs already hit hard by sequestration cuts earlier this year. Children have only one childhood. Every day that children are being denied early education and food causes lasting damage to their chances of living to their full potential.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is without its regular funding due to the shutdown, leaving at risk nearly nine million pregnant women, recent mothers, and their children under age five who rely on the program’s supplemental vouchers for healthy food, expensive infant formula, and other necessities. Fifty-three percent of all infants born in the U.S. are fed through the WIC program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture originally estimated that state funds and contingency funds would be enough to cover only a week of nutritional supports during the shutdown. Fortunately the Department this week transferred unspent funding from last year to states to avoid shutdowns through the month of October—but not beyond. Some states have already stopped applications for new benefits because they are unsure of what will happen next month.

Head Start serves more than one million poor children, who are particularly in need of early education programs to succeed and thrive. Twenty-three Head Start programs servicing nearly 19,000 students across 10 states and Puerto Rico did not have access to federal funding on October 1st because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could not process Head Start grants due to the shutdown. Head Start grantees are funded on a yearly basis, and for some that grant year begins on October 1st. When these programs didn’t receive their annual grants as scheduled, they were forced to close their doors and furlough their workers unless they had alternative sources of revenue. At the end of the first week of the government shutdown, seven Head Start programs in six states (Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi) were closed, leaving 7,195 of our nation’s most vulnerable children without access to Head Start. These programs were able to reopen thanks to a private pledge of $10 million from John and Laura Arnold. Under sequestration Head Start already had to cut 57,000 children from the program.

Funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) shouldn’t have been affected by the shutdown, but because the legislation reauthorizing it was delayed along with the spending bill, states are not receiving their October federal funds. Since TANF is funded through both federal and state funds, most states should have the flexibility to continue providing benefits, and the federal government has also let states use leftover funds from previous years. But at least one state—Arizona—stopped TANF payments starting October 3rd to 5,200 families out of the Arizona TANF caseload of 16,300 families.

As many Americans have already learned, even life-saving research for children with serious medical needs has been affected. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that for every week the shutdown continues, 30 children—10 of whom have cancer—will not be able to begin their clinical trials.

States use the $1.7 billion Social Services Block Grant for child abuse and neglect services, child care, and other family services, but due to the shutdown, states are not receiving their October funds. This means some states may have to close down programs if they don’t have alternative funds they can use.

And children of families of furloughed employees may suffer if the furlough lasts too long. The federal government estimates that more than 800,000 workers are being furloughed, and some state and local government employees normally paid with federal funds are also being sent home. This comes on top of the furloughs that many federal employees have experienced over the past six months due to sequestration. If the shutdown lasts, furloughed employees may experience problems paying bills and providing for their families, especially if they are not provided retroactive pay once the shutdown ends.

To make all of this worse, a severe economic meltdown is predicted if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling in the next two weeks to pay the nation’s bills and obligations. Meanwhile some members of Congress continue to show worse “compromising” skills than spoiled toddlers. Enough is enough. Call or email your own representative and tell them they must act now to fully fund the federal government and raise the debt ceiling without any conditions. Tell them to stop the shutdown and prevent an economic meltdown for the sake of our children.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by S.V.T.RAO at: November 9, 2013
Child people halth and nutrution food and clothes child labar most awareness plese help

Submitted by Susie at: October 14, 2013
The members of Congress should come to the counties they represent and live in the housing projects, for a couple of months. Leave their fancy home and donate two months salary to a worthy charity and find a job paying $7.00/hour. Let's see what they think of social services programs them. It's easy to be in DC with their big salary which of course is not affected by this shut down, and maybe think about not having such a wonderful retirement. Our agency watches families who are trying to do better, get kicked in the face. Punish the ones using the system, not everyone. I say get up and take care of business, stop this stupid shutdown and give the poor and middle class families a break.

Submitted by Margaret at: October 13, 2013
Effective immediately, suspend all paychecks to congress members.

Submitted by pryler at: October 13, 2013

Submitted by Anonymous at: October 12, 2013
It is horrific! But how do we influence these Congresspeople who want to tear up the governmental safety net? They don't believe the Federal government should be involved in helping people--it's totally ideological and irrational, and because of gerrymandering their districts are safe. How do we influence enough moderates to stand up to them? Perhaps we need a march on WA. or on their local offices around the country. They need to know how angry we are!

Submitted by Leslie at: October 12, 2013
I have written Letters to the Editor and contacted Members of Congress about the importance of Head Start and other programs. Threatening the dignity and standing of the U.S. by stopping the Government or not raising the Debt Limit is atrocious behavior!

Submitted by ko ko at: October 12, 2013
I agree and the members that are passive need to be proactive and stop allowing others to speak for them. Do the right thing for the sake of the people and the children, because we are the ones it's affecting!

Submitted by sugartipsceo at: October 12, 2013
Thank you for your unending effort to change the situation for children in America. We are trying to do similar work the I am a S.W.E.L.L. kid and are following you to learn from you.

Submitted by Fred Nadelman at: October 12, 2013
I agree

Submitted by Dvee at: October 12, 2013
We have to take the government back for the people of the USA. Our children are no longer a priority in this game of politics!!!!!!!! Or is perfectly clear that the government is working on behalf of the corporations and no longer on behalf of the people for which it stands!!!!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by Silina at: October 12, 2013
Great information

Submitted by Silina at: October 12, 2013
This shutdown is the Republican/Tea Party's way of trying to make President Obama look like a failure. He will only "look like a failure" if the gives in to their hostage taking maneuvers. This shutdown is making the Tea Party Republicans look vindictive and cruel and it is causing their poll numbers to drop like rocks. W President Obama must stand up for the poor and middle class and stop the sequester, expand SS, raise the FICA cap, and institute a progressive tax code. This will enable this country to upgrade our crumbling infrastructure, improve our educational system, and put thousands of fire fighters and police back to work.

Submitted by cab at: October 12, 2013
Boehner is the head of the"small group of Republicans" in The House who has prohibited a vote. Lets put the blame mainly on him. Senator McCain has to share the blame with his non-specific rhetoric. "Senate Republicans are disappointed with The House of Representatives" we are told but they are not influencing Boehner - not to the point of allowing voting - not to the point of effectively lifting the debt ceiling and allowing all the govt. Services to be back up and running. That we've fallen to "53% of infants get federal services that have been cut" seems unbelievable to me. Are we a third world country? I question how that statistic came about.

Submitted by Bunny 51 at: October 12, 2013
Totally agree!!!

Submitted by Carla at: October 12, 2013
I really liked the article, and it is much kinder than I could ever be. Our nation is extremely polarized and now paralyzed. It is for all practical purposes dysfunctional. I have written to my congressman and signed numerous petitions to end the government shut down, and all this seemingly to no avail. The education of our young children is being held hostage along with everything else. When I went grocery shopping yesterday, the store had put meat with freezer burn on the shelf. Why, because no one is inspecting and looking over their shoulder. Many things in our society will begin to erode and collapse. People dependent upon disability and social security will be homeless and starving. Our country is poised to become the next third world country. Our so-called representatives are cowtowing to the demands of an elite few, and forgetting about the majority of the people out here. They are holding us all hostage in order to circumvent the system to get their way to defund the affordable care act. If they feel that strongly, there is a proper process and procedure to follow without hurting the nation as a whole. I think they should be brought up on charges of sabotaging our government and its functionability.

Submitted by IBMama2 at: October 12, 2013
I am horrified, angry, sometimes frightened, sad and ashamed of my country. I am working daily to overturn this shutdown (and the often forgotten sequester that preceded) by signing petitions, calling and writing letters within my limits as a person with disabilities. If we do not work to defeat these excuses for human beings who voted this shutout, we will be complicit. I worry about families, the children. These short-sighted GOP thugs have no moral standing and blatantly lie. Our media are insufficiently naming the problem, but it seems that much of our citizenry is 'getting' that it is one party that is the problem. What has happened to our democracy that thugs can be in control?

Submitted by Rita at: October 12, 2013
Thank you for your meaningful message! The selfishness and total lack of integrity that pervades those in Congress, who have "sold" their souls to the "Tea Party" extremists. is a reprehensible new "low" that the American people must overcome and NEVER forget! We must UNITE against them to defeat them and their agenda before they defeat DEMOCRACY!

Submitted by Francine at: October 12, 2013
I think the column nails the facts eloquently. It is disgusting - but the column itemizes and expands on just "it's disgusting".

Submitted by Hellene at: October 11, 2013
The above article by Marian Wright Edelman is very well expressed. I once needed some of these programs as a single mother of three. I feel extremely fortunate that my children were able to attend a preschool similar to Headstart, with no fee if I could help out. That early start to education and the good nutrition helped my children do well in school and become productive adults.

Submitted by Robin bird at: October 11, 2013
this is a ridiculous uneducated bias view of what's happening in Washington. Money does not grow on trees and we can't just print more and fund everything. People, we must spend less than the budget to create a surplus, not more!