Policy Resource

Government Shuts Down: Will Infants, Toddlers, and Families Be Shut Out?

Oct 18, 2013

At the stroke of midnight, much of the federal government saw its funding run out and began shutting down.

Over the weekend and throughout the day Monday, the House of Representatives passed one Continuing Resolution (CR) after another that would delay or repeal the Affordable Care Act (signed into law in 2010) as a condition for approving continued funding for a vast array of programs that affect many aspects of American life. The Senate steadfastly voted for a clean extension of funding to allow government services to continue while final spending for fiscal year 2014 was negotiated. Eventually, the clock ran out.

How will the shutdown affect young children who live in low-income families—almost half of all children under age 3 in the country—given that federal programs provide some of the important supports they and their families need to thrive? The intricacies of federal funding mean a shutdown is not as clear-cut as simply hanging a “Closed” sign on the front door. Some programs with mandatory funding not subject to the annual appropriations process are not affected—but some are, because the authority for their spending expired at midnight as well. Some grantees within programs are affected, while others will keep serving children and families, at least for a while.

Most services for families are administered through states or at the local level. An overall rule of thumb is that states can use funds left over from previous years to continue providing services.

Here is what we have gleaned from the Administration and other analysts about how the Shutdown of 2013 affects the ingredients all babies need to thrive: Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences.

Good Health

Affordable Care Act: Ironically, the law the House Republicans are trying to stop in its tracks fully goes into effect today, October 1. The state- and federally-run exchanges have funding to open for business to serve many families and individuals who previously had no realistic avenue to health care coverage. Some states will extend Medicaid to very low-income adults who also have had no access to health insurance. While the initial roll-out of the exchanges may be bumpy, there is every reason to believe that over time the kinks will be ironed out, and affordable health care plans will finally be in reach for many people formerly left out.

Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): Infants and toddlers who receive important health care and developmental monitoring through these programs will still receive these services. Medicaid, although an entitlement funded through appropriations, has funding for the next quarter. CHIP is funded separately from the appropriations process.

Nutrition programs, including SNAP, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and WIC: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) has funding through October. CACFP has funding that will take it into October. However, WIC, which provides crucial nutritional support for pregnant women, infants and young children, must wait until a new funding measure passes before receiving 2014 funding. Some relief may come as a combination of infant formula rebates, leftover 2013 funds, and possible federal contingency funds could help keep the program funded for a while.

Strong Families

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): TANF receives mandatory funds, but its authorizing legislation together with its funding expired at midnight. An extension of this authorized funding was expected to be included in a CR. States can use funds left from prior years or their own funds (for which they can get reimbursement later) to continue their programs. Some mandatory funding for the Child Care Development Fund is included in TANF and will be similarly affected.

Child welfare: Foster care payments will continue, as funds are made available in advance. Other child welfare funding that pays for state child welfare services will not receive funding until appropriations for 2014 are enacted.

Home Visiting: The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program has mandatory funding through 2014, so will not be affected.

Housing: Families in public housing will not be affected immediately. However, families receiving rental assistance will receive that support in October, but it is not clear if funds are available for November and beyond.

Positive Early Learning Experiences

Head Start and Early Head Start: No new grants will be made until 2014 funding is in place, but only programs whose grant period starts in October will be unable to open their doors today, affecting about 19,000 children. However, this is in addition to the more than 57,000 children who have already lost services for good because of the sequester.

Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG): Discretionary funding for child care for 2014 would not be available until a funding measure passes. States can continue to use funding from prior years, if any is available, to serve children and families.

So uncertainty and, in some cases, outright hardship will reign for children and families as long as the shutdown lasts. Clearly even some programs that have funding for the next month will have to face curtailing services if the stalemate continues for long. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families will feel the shutdown’s sting immediately, forced to stay home from jobs they want to do with no assurances that their lost pay will be made up later. And don’t look now, but none of the CR’s proposed by either body in Congress would extend funding beyond a few months, which means we could find ourselves right back here in a matter of weeks.

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