WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 02: Children from the Head Start program at the Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Center join supporters and members of Congress to...
Chip Somodevilla

As shutdown drags on, America’s vulnerable suffer

Darryl Francis doesn’t work for the federal government. But ever since Tuesday morning, he’s still been out of work thanks to the shutdown.

“It’s going to hurt,” Francis told MSNBC.com. “I’m married. I have three children, one who is in college, another who is going to be in college, and they’ve got student loans and those types of things. It’s going to hurt us. We’ve got to cut back and make some decisions, but what can you do.”

Francis works for an electrical company in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Until this week, he and about a dozen colleagues were doing government contract work on NASA’s Glenn Research Center, located within the city. On Tuesday, the day the shutdown officially began, Francis and his coworkers were called into work as usual; but after four hours on the job, they were sent home indefinitely.

“The company that I work for, we’re in a slump period right now,” said Francis. “They’re waiting for other jobs to break or begin, so there was no place to send us. Effectively, that puts me on furlough.”

He isn’t alone. The longer this shutdown has worn on, the more it has disrupted lives, put people out of work, and left struggling families without access to basic services. Across the country, most of the burden has fallen on those who can afford it least.

The group of people most immediately affected by the shutdown are the over 800,000 federal workers sent out on furlough without pay. The consequences for contractors like Francis are slightly more difficult to calculate, but suffice to say numerous private sector workers across the country have found themselves temporarily out of work because their employers rely on contracts from the federal government. Public sector employees of state governments have suffered as well: In Arkansas alone, 2,000 state workers have been furloughed because their salaries depend on federal aid.

Furloughed workers have no guarantee of receiving backpay. For private sector employees, that’s up for their individual managers to decide; and while Congress has authorized retroactive pay for out-of-work federal employees after every single prior shutdown in American history, Congressional Republicans are divided on whether they will vote to do so again.

While some furloughed federal employees qualify for unemployment benefits, that program may also be affected by the shutdown. In at least one state, Washington, the agency in charge of cutting unemployment checks may run out of money if the shutdown isn’t resolved by Friday.

Federal funds are also no longer going towards the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a benefits program intended to provide small children, pregnant women and poor mothers with better access to food and healthcare. An estimated 8.9 million mothers in the United States use the program. In its shutdown contingency plan [PDF], the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that federal WIC funds “may not be sufficient to cover benefits,” if the shutdown lasts through the month.

The federal money has already dried up for 23 Head Start programs nationwide. On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that the shutdown had caused about 50 individual Head Start sites nationwide to close their doors, leaving 3,200 preschool-aged children from low-income families without professional childcare.

The shutdown has also imperiled the education prospects of many ex-military, including 25-year-old Afghanistan veteran Garrett Savage. Due to lack of funds, the government has been forced to suspend the tuition assistance disbursements which Savage needs to fund his undergraduate studies at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla.

If the shutdown goes on for too long, “I could get kicked out of school,” Savage told MSNBC.com. “I could probably still pay my bills for a few months, but this is money I depend on every month, or I go in the red.”

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As shutdown drags on, America’s vulnerable suffer