The Government Shutdown: A Debacle for All, Especially Individuals with Disabilities

According to the Washington Post, approximately 800,000 federal government employees have been impacted financially by the partial government shutdown resulting from the Congress' inability to agree upon a budget. While Congress debates over one controversial issue - the inclusion of funding for a border wall, the effects of the shutdown creates more issues and ceases the services and supports that already have bipartisan and taxpayer support.

Members of the Disability Justice Initiative and Center for American Progress describe five ways the government shutdown is impacting individuals. One is obvious, during the shutdown many government workers do not get paid, but in some "essential" cases must still work. What may not be obvious is that finding part-time or alternative work in the mean time for individuals with disabilities can often be challenging. This is especially true for contracted workers or individuals who are working for the government as part of community-partnerships specific to individuals with disabilities. Second, a lapse in USDA funding has left individuals dependent on SNAP, WIC, free/reduced school lunch, and CAFCP funding with uncertainty in regards to how long they will have benefits. According to the Food Research & Action Center, "food insecurity disproportionately affects people with disabilities. In 2009-2010, households with adults living with disabilities experienced a food insecurity rate of 33 percent — almost three times the rate at which households with no adults with disabilities were food insecure (12 percent)." The organization states that one in five households receiving SNAP benefits includes an individual with disabilities. Another impact of the shutdown relates to housing. According to the Center for American Progress, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is shutdown with a lapse in funding, putting at-risk the rental assistance programs that provide supportive and safe housing for more than 5 million low-income households. According to HUD, approximately 20 percent of individuals that receive HUD rental assistance have a disability. Lastly, it is important to remember that many state and local programs rely upon federal funding. If the government shutdown results in a lapse in funding for these programs, transportation, healthcare, Head Start programming, public transportation, and more could be impacted. Individuals with disabilities often utilize such programs. In fact, according to the National Council on Disability, 6 million Americans with disabilities have difficulties obtaining the transportation they need and utilize public transportation services.

As we move forward, it is essential we continue to communicate to our legislature the impact that the government shutdown is having on all of us, including individuals with disabilities. While the "major" issue that has initiated this shutdown is controversial, the services and supports that have ceased or are at-risk of ceasing are common sense and withholding them is cruel.


Michelle M. Sands

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Doctoral Student - Department of Special Education