The longest government shutdown in U.S. history is starting to cause real pain for some of the most vulnerable Americans, according to The New York Times. This includes millions of homeless people as well as millions of others who are one just one small crisis away from ending up on the streets themselves.
And most nonprofit groups who help low-income renters are now scrambling to survive without the payments from HUD that began being cut off at the beginning of the year.
Landlords have started to pressure poor, disabled and elderly tenants who cannot afford to make up the difference, threatening evictions.
For example, on Friday, a TriState Management employee in Newton, Ark., taped notices on the doors of 43 federally subsidized tenants, demanding that they cover the gap between what they typically pay and the full rent.
“As of Feb. 1, 2019, all tenants will be responsible for full basic rent,” the letter said. “We will extend the due date for the rent to the 20th of the month. This will remain in effect until the government opens up.”
One tenant said:
“This is putting a hurt on all of us. Everything was going along normal until they decided to shut down the government. I can’t pay that much; it is beyond my means. It is not fair.”
Lawyers for the poor say that renters can fight evictions in court, and many organizations, including the Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, have begun distributing fliers informing tenants of their rights under local law.
Most other social safety net programs are facing similar emergencies. The Department of Agriculture has announced that funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides food stamps and other aid to 40 million poor and working-class Americans, will run out by March 1, and other nutrition programs are facing the same fate.
Although the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was mostly exempt from the shutdown, Congress failed to reauthorize one of its main programs, the $16.5 billion Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides states with block grants for social services, cash welfare and child care. A long shutdown lasting into the spring could result in cutbacks, according to experts.
The shutdown has already wreaked havoc on organizations responsible for housing homeless people and providing support services to veterans, people with disabilities and victims of domestic abuse.
The funding lapse is being felt most acutely by providers who owe their survival to the month-to-month cash flow provided by the annual $2.8 billion federal Homeless Assistance Grant program.
“The crisis has arrived,” said Anna Sinclair-Smith, the executive director of the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless. The last payment the group received from HUD was a $250,000 reimbursement for its December expenses.
“We can get by for a while, but what happens if one of our buildings has emergency expenses we can’t pay?” Ms. Sinclair-Smith said.
In Kokomo, Ind., shelters that serve homeless veterans and victims of domestic violence are struggling to remain open without the monthly subsidies. Homeless assistance organizations in Kentucky, Texas, Arkansas, California and New Jersey also will lose funding at the end of the month.
“If the shutdown continues, all these groups will be left having to consider a spectrum of bad to terrible options, including staff layoffs and, in the worst-case scenario, evictions,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
HUD funds most of these programs and 95 percent of its workforce is on furlough. HUD officials inadequately planned for an extended shutdown, failing to recertify more than 1,000 contracts with landlords who provided subsidized housing.
“I am thoroughly disgusted with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s failure to follow its own contingency plan” for the shutdown, Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, wrote in a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson on Friday.
The shutdown has also stopped critical funding for public housing repairs, new housing voucher applications and the processing of housing requests from Puerto Rico and several hurricane-ravaged states.
HUD officials are growing very concerned that tenants and local groups that depend on funding from the department will be stranded if the shutdown lasts even a few more weeks.
Smaller organizations, especially those in rural areas, are especially vulnerable because they don’t have endowments, cash reserves or lines of credit that their big-city counterparts have.
“We are providing services without getting paid for those services, and eventually that is going to catch up with us,” said Adrienne Bush, executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, which relies on a $1 million federal grant that covers about half its expenses each year.
Ms. Bush’s group has not received its January payments, and still has not gotten some of the money it was owed from providing services in 2018.
Ms. Bush will soon have to stop paying some landlords, which could lead to evictions.
She sent a letter pleading for help to Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader. Ms. Bush said the shutdown was putting “people’s lives at risk.” She received an eight-word response, and no commitment to help.
“I’ll be sure to pass on your concerns,” Tiffany Ge, Mr. McConnell’s legal counsel, replied in an email to Ms. Bush.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.