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GLOBE NH | MORNING REPORT

N.H. families at risk of homelessness if US defaults on federal debt

“It’s terrifying,” a New Hampshire resident said during a roundtable hosted by Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t be impacted in some way.”

Mothers practicing yoga at the Wellness Barn at New Generation, a family-oriented shelter for homeless pregnant women and their babies in Greenland, N.H.Rich Beauchesne/Portsmouth Herald via AP

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Amber MacQuarrie has already been homeless once, and she does not want to experience it again. She said the economic precarity as the country looms closer to a possible default on federal debt is terrifying.

MacQuarrie is afraid she’ll lose her housing a second time, and she’s concerned about other families losing access to the federal assistance programs that helped her when she needed a safety net, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and rental assistance.

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In 2021, MacQuarrie had a business and a roof over her head, but she said when her landlord decided to sell the house where she was living in Manchester, she lost everything. She became homeless for a year and a half, living in a camper in a friend’s backyard.

When she lost her housing, she also lost the small child-care business she had run out of her home.

“I went from completely self-sufficient to 100 percent dependent on the state,” she said. She wanted to work but had to care for her 10-year-old daughter who is disabled, she said. And applying for jobs and housing was a full-time job itself.

MacQuarrie is back on her feet now, with a job in customer service and a rental house in Dublin, N.H. But her situation still feels precarious — she said her entire paycheck goes to her rent and she got choked up explaining that potential buyers are touring her home today. She’s afraid it will be sold out from under her.

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”It’s crazy,” she said. “People are falling like flies to homelessness.”

Advocates say a default on the federal debt would only worsen the housing crisis in New Hampshire. They spoke about the impact defaulting would have on New Hampshire families Wednesday during a roundtable hosted by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who has been trying to get constituents around the state to pay attention to the issue.

It’s not creating the same alarm it did in 2011, and Shaheen told the Globe she’s not sure why.

One thing that is definitely different? The politics. “We’re in a post-Donald Trump era where we have a Republican party that is very extreme,” Shaheen said. “We’ve heard people like Marjorie Taylor Green and some of the House members and the Freedom Caucus who say, ‘Well, yeah, defaulting would be a good thing because it will bring down Joe Biden.’”

While there are a lot of unknowns about how this unprecedented situation would play out, a default would likely mean the federal government delays paying its bills, including the money it spends on assistance programs.

Losing access to federal assistance programs like SNAP can increase the risk of housing instability because people end up spending the money they do have on food, according to Laura Milliken, executive director of NH Hunger Solutions.

”It’s terrifying,” MacQuarrie said about the potential for the country to default on its debt. “It’s not just me. I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t be impacted in some way.”

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The Big Picture

Turtles are on the go at this time of year as they head from the vernal pools and wetlands where they spend the winter to their upland nesting sites. Pictured is an eastern box turtle.Melissa Winters, NHFG Nongame Certified Wildlife Biologist

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Amanda Gokee can be reached at amanda.gokee@globe.com. Follow her @amanda_gokee.