A two-week partial shutdown of the United States government has taken a toll greater than anticipated on women. While politicians postured in Washington, pregnant women in North Carolina wondered where their next meal would could from, mothers worried if they would lose child care at a moment’s notice, and victims of domestic violence questioned whether their safe harbors would disappear overnight.
Although some state departments and services operate independently, many of those that work with women rely on federal funds to keep the lights on. For many, the first indication that the shutdown was affecting services was the state’s announcement in early October that it had suspended Women Infant and Children nutritional benefits until the government resumed normal activities.
Although the WIC program in North Carolina was temporarily restored, tens of thousands of women still face a critical level of uncertainty that the services they depend upon will disappear. A national grant, the Child Care Development Fund, provides subsidies for child care to low income and needy families. County departments of social services reported that if the shutdown continued through November, they would have needed to suspend these programs. Most have already stopped accepting applications for new families.
Head Start, another vital resource for child care and education for North Carolina families, has also been threatened. At least 20 Head Start locations have had to shut their doors in the U.S. since the shutdown began. Although none were in North Carolina, these programs were forecasted to close within a year without reinstatement of federal funding.
Victims of domestic violence and other women in need of crisis counseling also had the possibility of being left in the cold by the shutdown. Funds from the Violence Against Women Act provide support for crisis hotlines and shelters across the country. Nationally, many domestic violence agencies are shuttering or are dramatically reducing services as they run out of money. In North Carolina, the Durham Crisis Response Center, the county’s only shelter of its kind, announced it would likely close at the end of the month without federal funds. The organization relies on $350,000 from the federal government every year to provide shelter, peace, and care to hundreds of women and children.
Even with the government back in action, it doesn’t change the fact that for thousands of North Carolina women, October has been a month full of fear and uncertainty. Women who need protection from their abusive spouses and mothers who depend on the government for childcare are the last people who need more complications and unpredictability in their lives.