IMO (In MiC’s Opinion): The Government Shutdown

Sunday, January 21, 2018 - 8:07pm

On the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, congressional Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on a budget that would secure continued protection for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

As of now, this has resulted in political gridlock: While Republicans have pushed for CHIP, the Trump administration seems to be against protecting DACA. On the other hand, Democrats have been fighting to continue funding and support for both. While an argument can be made that this government shutdown is a direct result of the fight to protect CHIP and DACA — two programs that benefit people of color — it is important to understand the impact this fight will have on marginalized communities.

Lack of action on CHIP and DACA

More specifically, CHIP helps children across the country live healthier lives by granting children from low-income families access to medical care. Unfortunately, this program’s funding expired this past year, and no agreement has been met on supplying its future funding. Though CHIP only represents 3 percent of our total Medicaid costs, Republican opposition to the program may condemn low-income children across the United States to being raised without access to necessary vaccines and other health coverages. Up to 1.7 million kids may lose their healthcare in the upcoming weeks. In 2017, around 67 percent of CHIP recipients identified as people of color, which is why the loss of this program would result in severe ramifications for these communities.  

DACA, on the other hand, is a provision from President Barack Obama’s administration that guarantees two years of safety for undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as minors, as long as they are registered with the federal government. Today, there are approximately 800,000 registered Dreamers who have been promised they could stay in the country. However, the current administration has issued threat after threat against undocumented individuals. This means that Dreamers — our friends, neighbors and classmates — who took a huge risk by sending their personal information to the federal government in order to register for DACA may now see this information be used against them.

Even on campus, DACA has sparked a larger dialogue about what students, staff and faculty can do to protect undocumented students. Earlier in Trump’s presidency, Central Student Government even passed two resolutions supporting DACA. Later, after the president tried to pass his travel ban, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel stated the University is committed to protecting the rights of all community members and will not release the immigration status of any students. Additionally, he assured students that campus police would not ask them about immigration or citizenship status while working on campus.

“The leadership of the university is committed to protecting the rights and opportunities currently available to all members of our academic community, and to do whatever is possible within the law to continue to identify, recruit, support and retain academic talent, at all levels, from around the world,” Schlissel wrote in his Jan. 28 notice. 

The Trump administration’s visible disdain for people of color has been the cornerstone of the president’s policies since the beginning of his campaign. With this government shutdown, which we, the editors of Michigan in Color, feel is a testament to the lack of value the current administration places on undocumented individuals, his racist ideas and rhetoric are resulting in widespread failures of government that will cut off resources for many Americans. And perhaps unsurprisingly, people of color will be forced to bear a disproportionate amount of the burden.

Effects of the shutdown

Perhaps the most apparent consequence of a government shutdown is its effect on payment for federal employees. Those deemed “unessential” — roughly 700,000 employees, the vast majority of all federal government workers — are now placed on furlough until Congress can reach a deal. This means that while Congress gets paid during the gridlock they created, over three-quarters of a million federal employees will not see a paycheck until a deal is reached (assuming that Congress passes a deal similar to one passed after the last shutdown, which granted back pay to furloughed employees). This pay freeze may seem relatively innocuous in the bigger picture; however, it’s crucial to understand the effect this will have on individual federal employees — especially those from marginalized groups.

Starting after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, African Americans began flocking to federal jobs with newly-available positions for Black applicants. While jobs in the private sector were (and still are) limited by racist and exclusionary policies, federal jobs were largely seen as open to all racial identities and agents of upward mobility. According to a study from the University of California, Berkeley, which was reported on by NPR, “among industries that pay blacks the highest wages, the biggest proportion of those blacks work in the public sector.” The article went on to state that the report found “the earnings gap between whites and blacks, which exists in all industries, is the narrowest in government…[and] for every dollar earned by white government workers, black women in government earn 89 cents and black men earn 80 cents. Overall, black women earn 85 cents and black men earn 74 cents for every dollar earned by whites.”

As a result of this history, Blacks are vastly overrepresented in federal government roles. Despite making up only about 13 percent of the country’s population, African Americans occupy almost 20 percent of all federal jobs. As a result, it’s easy to see why this shutdown disproportionately affects the group. This inequitable distribution isn’t a crazy coincidence or an inconsequential fact, it’s representative of a bigger problem: People of color, and members of other marginalized identities, all too often must unfairly bear the burden of government gridlock.

Additionally, the impact of halting the services these federal employees offer will harm some groups more than others. For example, 96 percent of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will be furloughed as a result of the government shutdown. HUD was created to address housing needs for “America’s most vulnerable populations” — which the department defines as the working poor, minorities, Native Americans, people with disabilities, people with AIDS, the elderly and the homeless. In other words, the majority of the groups described as “America’s most vulnerable populations” are minority groups (and even groups that aren’t exclusively made up of people of color, like the homeless, see a disproportionate share of minorities).

Services provided by other government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, will also be drastically reduced. According to Parlapiano and Yourish, 95 percent of employees at the EPA would be affected by a government shutdown, meaning many of the EPA’s services will be halted. Though this agency has a contingency plan that will allow it to operate for one week through a shutdown, if Congress is unable to bring this gridlock to a swift conclusion, crucial services — such as the regulation of air, water, pesticides, hazardous waste and the climate — will be delayed. The suspension of these services are more likely to impact people of color in a multitude of ways. For example, the regulation of air is imperative in safeguarding the health of people living near factories and other smog-producing industries, urban areas populated primarily by people of color.

The final victims of the shutdown are children of color. According to a White House report from the 2013 fiscal year, over 6,300 low-income kids in six states couldn't attend their Head Start programs in preschool during the shutdown, leaving them in need of a place to stay while parents were at work. The majority of the children who comprise these Head Start programs are ethnic minorities — 29 percent Black, 4 percent American Indian/Native American, 2 percent Asian, and 37 percent of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to a 2016 national report. Similarly, Women, Infants, and Children, a program that works to fund supplemental nutrition for women and their children has also been compromised. This program not only gives support for low-income families through educational programs, but also supplies postpartum and breastfeeding women with supplemental foods and vitamins for their newborns. This not only creates issues for many of the families that may already live in food deserts, but also for women who desperately need nutritional foods to nourish their child within the vital time period of the first 28 days to one year of breastfeeding.

In short, the government shutdown disproportionately puts a further burden on marginalized communities. While we firmly believe that CHIP and DACA are important policies that should stay, people of color should not be the ones to bear the weight of this government impasse. What we see with this shutdown down is the further exacerbation of systemic inequality that negatively affects the income, occupations, living conditions and the health of people of color. Ultimately, this shutdown sends a message from the Trump administration that the needs of marginalized communities are not valid in the midst of an already racist political climate. This is not merely a political tool — it is a very real situation with widespread, inequitable consequences.