Government Shutdown 2019: Other Indirect Impacts on Healthcare

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As many people might already know, several divisions within the United States federal government have been completely shut down since December 22, 2018. Moreover, as of the time of this writing, this stoppage has attained the noteworthy status of being the longest-lasting shutdown in the history of the nation. In actuality, this particular shutdown has been taking place for 30+ days without an end in sight.

Although the current partial government shutdown had not been directly caused by any healthcare policies or programs, it does have a noticeable effect on multiple aspects of the health system in the United States. The previous posting discussed the impact of the shutdown on government-run departments such as the Indian Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The predominant aim of this nonpartisan, nonpolitical piece is to mention a number of ways the 2019 government shutdown is affecting the healthcare system, either directly or indirectly. Federal entities such as the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the United States Department of Agriculture have sustained profound blows to their operations due to the shutdown, although in differing ways.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development, referred to as HUD for short, is a division within the executive branch of the federal government. HUD administers many of the major affordable housing and homelessness programs, including the Housing Choice Voucher Program, more commonly known as Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance.

In addition, HUD is in charge of the Section 202 housing program for approximately 400,000 lower income senior citizens, as well as Section 811 housing for thousands of low income disabled individuals. Many chronically ill persons in the US health system, such as the aforementioned senior citizens and the disabled, are heavily dependent on these various HUD programs to cover the costs of their monthly housing expenses.

Because of the recent shutdown, hundreds of affordable housing contracts have now expired. This event places the housing situation of vulnerable elderly and disabled persons in a perilous limbo. It also places their health at risk since numerous low-rental housing complexes arrange for mobile medical units to visit chronically ill residents on a routine basis for the purpose of providing some of their healthcare needs.

The United States Department of Agriculture

The US Department of Agriculture, abbreviated USDA, provides food to millions of indigent Americans through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known as SNAP). Through SNAP, more than 43 million people utilize food stamps via electronic benefits transfer cards to obtain food at participating supermarkets, grocers and corner stores across the country.

In addition to the poor, millions of disabled persons with chronic illnesses and lower income elderly people with health issues depend on food stamps in order to eat. Some participating grocers are not able to accept food stamps during this shutdown because they cannot renew the licensure that is required to process EBT funds.

These stores’ licenses, which are supposed to be renewed once every five years, cannot be renewed during this current shutdown because the government employees who usually process them are not available to work on the necessary paperwork as a result of furloughs. An estimated 2,500+ stores in the US can no longer accept food stamps because their licensure expired on January 1.

Furthermore, as the shutdown drags on, the ability of food stamp recipients to obtain food remains uncertain. Many states have disbursed the February 2019 SNAP benefits to recipients several weeks ahead of schedule. However, unless this shutdown ends soon, food stamp benefits might not be distributed in March, thereby limiting the ability of many different populations to acquire food in the near future.

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