How the government shutdown is adversely impacting African Americans
With the longest shutdown in U.S. history still looming, many American families, federal employees, and contractors are feeling the mounting pressure. For a long time in America, the federal government has been a larger employer than the private sector for African Americans, due to historic patterns of discrimination in the private sector and the ability for African Americans to secure adequate employment with the federal government. With this longest shut down in history impacting more than 800,000 Americans, a majority of whom are African Americans and people of color, these are some of the specific ways the shutdown is disproportionately impacting them and other furloughed employees.
The shutdown has left agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) unable to provide certain rent subsidies to low-income renters throughout the country. Nonprofits that traditionally provide such payments to low-income renters are unable to do so as a result of HUD not providing the necessary funds to the nonprofits until the government reopens. Landlords and property management companies, especially smaller companies running on a low margin, are now asking tenants to cover the difference, which many low-income renters and other vulnerable populations, including African Americans, who live paycheck to paycheck, are unable to do.
Just before taking their holiday recess at the end of last year, Congress passed the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act, commonly referred to as “the FIRST STEP Act”. The act is viewed by a large spectrum of advocacy groups and criminal justice reform partners as a good start to long overdue criminal justice reform in the federal prison system. It includes provisions in the legislation to reduce sentences, limit recidivism, and reward well-behaved inmates. Hours after the bill was signed into law by President Trump, the federal government went into a partial shutdown, postponing the ability for the Department of Justice to establish an Independent Review Commission within 30 days of the law’s enactment, as required. The commission is set to be tasked with assisting the attorney general and the Bureau of Prisons in the design and deployment of the risk and needs assessment tool, which will be used to determine the risk of recidivism and violent misconduct as well as assign the types, lengths, and rewards for recidivism reduction programs.
With the FIRST STEP Act now missing its first benchmark, David Barren, an African American man who is serving a 30-year sentence and is scheduled for release in 2034, has to wait longer for the tools to be in place for him to earn additional “good time,” which would reduce his overall sentence and allow him to be with his elderly parents and other members of his family. Undoubtedly, there are thousands of people like David Barren, people who would benefit from the FIRST STEP Act but who are left without it on account of the government shutdown.
Federal employees have now missed two entire paychecks, leaving many scrambling to balance their checkbooks and put food on their tables. Furthermore, federal government contractors such as Lila Johnson, a custodial engineer at the Department of Agriculture, will not receive back pay from missed paychecks during the partial shutdown. In a normal situation, Ms. Johnson, a 71-year-old African American woman, would use her vacation days or sick days to recover the back pay, but the shutdown has prevented her ability to do so.
The Federal Government provides $65 billion annually in SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, and in a typical month of 2016, SNAP helped about 13 million African Americans put sufficient food on the table for their families. The Trump Administration recently announced that because of the government shutdown, food benefits for 38 million people that would receive benefits in February will get them weeks earlier before the program’s money ran out. However, means that the average person will only have about $123 for the entire month, and grocery stores may not be prepared for the onslaught of shoppers coming in with their SNAP benefits this week.