DES MOINES — The recent federal government shutdown was especially disastrous for poor people across the country, according to one advocate for the poor.
However, he adds the good news of an agreement to re-open the government could include a new opportunity for the farm bill.
David Beckmann, head of Bread for the World, says the shutdown hit the poor in a variety of ways.
“The government shutdown and the risk of a financial crisis are really terrible news for hungry people,” Beckmann said week during an appearance at the World Food Prize symposium.
The biggest issue is jobs, he says. Beckmann argues policy uncertainty raised by constant threats to shut down the government or default on government debt has added about 1 percent to the national unemployment rate.
That loss of jobs is more important than any social program, he notes.
Of course, spending on social programs and programs to help feed the hungry in the United States and overseas also were hurt by the shutdown and the policy debate surrounding the shutdown.
While news articles and complaints from lawmakers often centered on whether national parks or monuments were open to the public, the shutdown led to layoffs for people at the bottom of the government food chain.
While some federal employees or private employees affected directly by the shutdown could get by without the cash flow of a paycheck for a few weeks, many minimum-wage workers live from paycheck to paycheck.
“If you are a minimum-wage worker and you’re laid off, suddenly your kids don’t have something to eat,” he says.
But, Beckmann says the move to re-open the government and avoid hitting the debt ceiling also could be good news for farmers.
“I’m guessing they’ll try to include the farm bill in any kind of bipartisan deal they come to,” he says.
That farm bill includes language eliminating items, such as direct payments. In that way, it could improve the federal budget situation.
But, the biggest challenge for farm-bill negotiators relates to spending on SNAP (food stamps). The Senate bill includes about $4 billion in SNAP cuts over 10 years while the House proposal includes about $40 billion in cuts over 10 years.
Beckmann says his organization does not support any cuts, but could live with the Senate number. It would, however, oppose greater cuts.
He reminds farmers and lawmakers a $10 billion cut would equal two full years of private food aid in the nation. All the private organizations that offer food aid combine to provide about $5 billion a year.
Beckmann hopes budget negotiations will lead to an end to the federal budget sequestration because that process also has also led to unnecessary cuts in programs that help the poor.