The Consequences of Hitting Pause: How Government Shutdowns Impact Ordinary Residents

The Consequences of Hitting Pause: How Government Shutdowns Impact Ordinary Residents

U.S. residents are familiar with Congress and the President using government shutdowns as a way to push a legislative agenda. However, the most recent government freeze lasted for the longest time in U.S. history at 35 days, placing unnecessary financial stress on low- and moderate-income families and individuals without a nest egg, as well as the organizations and programs that support them.

While the government is up and running for the time being, it’s important to understand how government shutdowns impact hardworking, vulnerable citizens and cannot be treated casually. That’s why we’ve provided information on just a few of the many ways this latest closure disrupted everyday life.

  • Many federal employees could not pay their bills. During the shutdown, 420,000 federal employees were required to work and another 380,000 were made to stay at home until the government reopened, both groups without immediate pay. 35 days without a steady income is a long time, forcing many into a tough financial situation. Some families and individuals missed bill payments, had to dip into their savings, accrued credit card debt, applied for unemployment benefits and/or had to take out short-term loans to make up the difference.
  • Over 1,000 Affordable Housing Contracts Expired. Nationwide, over 2.2 million low-income residents rely upon Section 8 and project-based vouchers to pay rent to private landlords. With 95 percent of The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) staff furloughed during the closure, over 1,150 contracts between HUD and government-supported properties that house low-income tenants terminated without renewal by the Department. This contractual gap forced thousands of residents to rely upon the good will of their landlords, many of whom were required to tap into meager financial reserves to stay afloat until the subsidies were made available again. In addition, due to a lack of certainty around the government’s ability to deliver financially on vouchers made available through turnover, many local housing authorities decided to stop issuing new subsidies during the shutdown, delaying new families and individuals from entering stable housing programs and putting additional pressure on homeless shelters.
  • State programs and non-profits that survive on government funding were financially strained. Welfare programs and critical non-profit organizations were negatively affected by funding shortfalls. For instance, the $16.5 billion Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was not reauthorized by Congress, placing the responsibility of financing childcare and welfare support on individual states. Meanwhile, the delay of payments through the $2.8 billion Homeless Assistance Grant caused numerous organizations that aid homeless veterans, disabled individuals, victims of domestic violence and more to reimagine ways to finance day-to-day operations.

The practice of shutting down the government for the sake of a political agenda is harmful. It places additional burden on our most vulnerable citizens. It disincentives landlords and organizations from partnering with the government to provide live-saving services for those in need. It treats the lives of ordinary, hardworking citizens as of secondary importance.

At IBA, we are committed to finding creative solutions that empower our community members and providing high-quality affordable housing and residential services, most recently assuming ownership of the West Newton/Rutland apartments to preserve and improve affordable housing in the South End. But it will take more than the power of community organizations, like us, and city and state governments. That same serious dedication to human wellbeing must be upheld by the national government as well.

We are proud to be working to develop housing opportunities for low-income households and minority residents in Boston. For more information on how you can support IBA, please visit our page:


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