As the federal government nears a shutdown over a budget impasse in Congress, Wisconsin offices that help low-income individuals worry they’ll have to stretch their programs. They hope the public sees the importance of their assistance.
Public policy analysts say safety-net aid, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would feel the budget squeeze sooner rather than later.
Brett White is executive director of the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program, which helps clients access WIC benefits. His office is nonpartisan, but he feels the work they do tends to get overlooked in public debates over government funding.
“We are the transportation program for this neck of the woods, and take people to dialysis treatments,” he said. “I mean, we’re big on that.”
He said they’ve been preparing to try to keep services running, but noted that some programs would eventually have to pause in a prolonged shutdown. Hard-right House Republicans have insisted on a federal budget that includes deep cuts for social assistance. The group Opportunity Wisconsin has called out certain GOP members of the state’s congressional delegation for not opposing that plan.
Freedom Caucus members have said their demands for big cuts should be considered because they didn’t make it into the debt-ceiling agreement earlier this year. Meanwhile, White said that as a lot of households still struggle with higher consumer prices, these programs are increasingly becoming a lifeline for those turning to them for the first time.
“We will see spikes, we’ve actually already begun to see inquiries,” he said. “We see spikes in our food pantry programs.”
The government shutdown threat and the potential for big spending reductions follow new data from the U.S. Census Bureau showing increases in poverty rates. That includes the nation’s child poverty rate more than doubling, to 12%.
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This article originally appeared in Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.