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Poor families hit hard by shutdown, Boston advocacy group warns

Mark Makela/Getty Images

An advocacy group for low-income residents in Greater Boston said Tuesday that the ongoing partial government shutdown is taking a devastating toll on millions of Americans who depend on federal food and housing aid.

In a statement, Action Boston for Community Development, or ABCD, said the shutdown has hit the nation’s most vulnerable residents with “life-threatening hunger and hardship, with funding running out for food stamps, tax refunds/credits, WIC, school lunches, and Section 8 and other subsidized housing programs.”

According to ABCD, millions of the approximately 39 million Americans who depend on food stamps to survive are already losing their benefits. The SNAP food stamp program will run out of funds by February, the release said, but “right now many grocery stores across the nation are reporting that ‘EBT’ cards issued to SNAP recipients are not being accepted in their online systems — it seems the government has already shut them down.”

John J. Drew, president and chief executive officer of ABCD, which serves more than 100,000 people annually and has a number of locations in and around Boston, lamented the current state of affairs in the release his organization put out Tuesday.

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“We join with our representatives in Congress — in the Senate and the House — who call for total restoration of government funding while differences are discussed separately,” Drew said. “If this shutdown continues, hunger in America will be back big-time. You will have millions of people unable to buy the food they need to survive. They also won’t have access to the hard-earned tax credits they count on to pay for rent, medicine, food and heat at this time of year. Landlords who can’t collect rent subsidies may evict them for market-rate renters.”

Tax refunds will also be affected, the organization said.

“The shutdown also means that no tax refunds will be made,” the statement said. “Hard-working low-income tax-payers who benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Care Tax Credit and who depend on early filing to receive their refunds and credits have nowhere to turn.”

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The IRS said Monday in a statement that despite the shutdown, “it will process tax returns beginning January 28, 2019 and provide refunds to taxpayers as scheduled.”

Action Boston also said the “Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are not receiving any federal funds during the shutdown,” and school lunches are an issue as well.

“Massachusetts has received funding through January for school lunches through the Child Nutrition Programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” the statement said. “After that there is no funding for school lunches.”

The USDA has posted information about program offerings during the shutdown on its website.

“The Child Nutrition (CN) Programs, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk will continue operations into February,” the agency says. “Meal providers are paid on a reimbursement basis 30 days after the end of the service month.”

The agency added that “most other domestic nutrition assistance programs, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, WIC, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, can continue to operate at the State and local level with any funding and commodity resources that remain available. Additional Federal funds will not be provided during the period of the lapse, however deliveries of already-purchased commodities will continue.”

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Action Boston said many Department of Housing & Urban Development employees are furloughed, which is disastrous for low-income housing.

“Low-income families make up 72 percent of HUD-assisted households — and more than half of those receiving vouchers are elderly or persons with disabilities,” the nonprofit said. “Funds for basic housing operations and housing vouchers are available through January — after that it is unclear what will happen. Low-income families and their landlords face loss of Section 8 housing subsidies, causing families to lose their housing and landlords to possibly evict them to get paying tenants to prevent falling into foreclosure.”

In a shutdown contingency plan posted to HUD’s website, the agency says housing work “during a lapse in appropriations includes the performance of functions that are funded through multi-year appropriations or where the failure to perform those functions would result in an imminent threat to the safety of human life or the protection of property. These activities are associated with FHA [Federal Housing Administration]’s portfolio of insured mortgages — multifamily, healthcare, and single family, as well as commitments entered into for project-based rental assistance. . . . In addition, ‘excepted’ employees will be performing functions related to the protection of government property.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.