Nobody will starve if Republicans drag the government shutdown out long enough to merge the fight over funding levels with brinkmanship over the debt ceiling, conservative pundit Bill Kristol predicted Wednesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I don’t think it’s the end of the world,” Kristol said of the shutdown, explaining that “we will go right into the debt ceiling negotiation anyway.”
“It’s not going to be the end of the world, honestly, even if you’re on nutrition assistance from the federal government,” Kristol added. “I believe that no one is going to starve in Arkansas because of the shutdown.”
Kristol’s downplaying of the impacts on hunger came in response to Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein’s observation that the delaying strategy Kristol recommended might help Republicans, “but those two weeks that you wait it out are consequential for a whole number of people.” “Maybe in your world it’s not the end of the world,” Stein said. “Eighty-five thousand people are losing nutritional assistance in Arkansas. That’s not inside the beltway, that’s in Arkansas. Thirteen Head Start programs are closing in Connecticut. That’s not inside the beltway.”
Watch the exchange:
Reality doesn’t support Kristol’s faith that charities can cancel out the impact of the shutdown on federal funding for pregnant women and infants at risk of undernourishment. The shutdown means no additional funds are available for federal programs that supply food to those charities, and those programs had already begun cutting back their supply efforts for food pantries prior to the shutdown.
Meanwhile, food pantries said over the summer that they were already stretched beyond their capacity due to prolonged high unemployment and can’t pick up the slack. Hunger has hit alarming highs across the country since the Great Recession. Arkansas scrounged up leftover federal funds that will buy two weeks’ worth of school meals for tens of thousands of those kids, but when that money runs out no more will come from Washington unless the government reopens.
There is no guarantee other states will share Arkansas’s good fortune, either. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will not issue new payments to states, meaning that any state that has already spent all its federal food assistance money will be without recourse. Utah’s WIC program shut down suddenly on Tuesday, leaving 65,000 residents without nutrition assistance. WIC administrators in Chicago and Wisconsin told Forbes they do not know how much of a funding cushion they have and fear a surprise cutoff to services. In Tennessee, contingency funding may or may not last into next week.