Government shutdown is hurting rural people who can least stand it

Jim King

People sometimes have a disconnect between what happens in Washington and life in an average household. The effects of the partial government shutdown are impossible to miss, however, as millions of families across the country feel it in very important ways: wage earning, food and housing.

As a network of local leaders making communities and economies work in Appalachia, Fahe is acutely aware of the negative impact of the shutdown in people’s lives.

In places such as Appalachia that are dominated by small and rural towns, a shutdown is potentially devastating. Federal and related agencies are an important source of liquidity so the shutdown means a lack of finance flowing in our region. This coupled with years of disinvestment adds instability to families and communities that are already struggling.

A recent article in the Washington Post analyzes the impact caused by the shutdown’s cessation of these investments, beginning with the story of an elderly woman in Kentucky (in fact, someone being served by Fahe member, Frontier Housing) who is waiting for a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to repair her aging home this winter.

Nonprofits across Appalachia are concerned because the shutdown not only affects their clients’ lives but compromises their stability to provide essential services. At this moment, more than 450 families working with Fahe have their dreams of home-ownership placed on indefinite hold because USDA offices are closed.

When the government shuts down, millions of Americans cannot access critical funds and services. Those who live in places like Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, Native American lands and the Colonias along the Mexican border also lose access to capital for homes and facilities such as school classrooms or water-treatment plants.

In our region of Appalachia, enrollment in the Supplemental Nurtrition Assistance Program is among the highest in the country, and it’s the same story in other struggling parts of the country. In many areas of Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and southwestern Virginia the population receiving assistance to purchase food ranges from 20 percent to nearly 60 percent.

People who depend on SNAP could lose that assistance if the shutdown stretches into March.

Many small town grocery stores also depend on SNAP. They receive a surge in business during the time of the month when SNAP benefits arrive. USDA data show that every dollar spent in SNAP generates up to $1.80 in economic activity in that area.

This shutdown is directly ruining lives and placing families in jeopardy when it comes to their paycheck, their food and their homes. It’s time to end this shutdown.

Jim King is president of Fahe, a Berea-based collaborative of nonprofits working to eliminate poverty in Appalachia. Reach him at jim@fahe.org.