The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol dismissed the devastating effects of the government shutdown claiming, “no one no one is going to starve in Arkansas,” ignoring that thousands of people across the country already face the loss of vital food nutrition programs.
On the October 2 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Kristol claimed that the shutdown wasn't a “disaster,” and dismissed The Huffington Post's Sam Stein's argument that the shutdown was forcing 85,000 people to lose nutritional assistance in Arkansas alone. Kristol responded that Congress should move to fund anything that was a genuine emergency, but that “a one or two week shutdown is not going to be the end of the world”:
[I]t's not going to be the end of the world honestly even if you're on nutritional assistance from the federal government. The state of Arkansas can help out, localities can help out, churches can help out, I believe that no one is going to starve in Arkansas because of the shutdown.
Starvation is an extreme measure by which to judge the damage of the shutdown. Though no one may have died yet, people around the country are facing the loss of essential food services, including in Arkansas.
The Associated Press reported on September 30 that Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe felt the state was “not in a position to” fund services typically from the federal government, and that “that more than 85,000 meals for Arkansas children would not be provided and 2,000 newborn babies would not receive infant formula through the Department of Health's WIC program.”
The WIC, or Women's, Infants and Children program, is a federally-funded health and nutrition program that serves roughly 9 million low-income mothers and young children around the country. On September 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a Contingency and Reconstitution Plan that stated that in the event of a government shutdown, states would have to decide whether to continue these food assistance programs “at their own risk with the understanding that Federal funds may not be forthcoming.” The plan noted that there would be “no additional federal funds” for the WIC in particular, in addition to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The USDA later released guidance to states allowing them to tap into additional funds to attempt to prolong the programs, but warned states could still “face funding shortfalls” if the shutdown lasted more than one week.
Arkansas has found a way to receive some of this supplemental funding from the USDA for “at least a week” to help continue its WIC program, according to the AP report. But there is no guarantee the funding will last beyond then, and other states have not been so lucky.
NBC's New York affiliate reported that several food assistance programs in the tri-state area do not have the money to continue operations during the shutdown, and The Huffington Post reported that while Utah will continue providing benefits to existing clients, they will not accept any new applicants. Program enrollees in other states may begin to see their food vouchers rejected starting this week.
In 2012, 49 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 15.9 million children. The Nation's Trudy Lierberman reported on September 25 that many food assistance programs across the country prior to the shutdown were already lacking the necessary funds to ensure no one went hungry -- including funding from private sources.