REPORT: Nightly News Shutdown Coverage Shrugs Off Effects On The Poor

In the first week of cable and broadcast nightly news coverage of the ongoing government shutdown, networks largely failed to report the effects on low-income Americans, instead opting for discussions of political leverage and national park closures.

EffectOf Shutdown On Low-Income Americans Barely Discussed

Effects Of Shutdown On The Poor Mentioned In Less Than 7 Percent Of Segments. Of the total 276 segments that broadcast and cable nightly news dedicated to the ongoing government shutdown, only 19 -- roughly 6.9 percent -- mentioned the effects of the shutdown on programs used primarily by low-income Americans.


Shutdown Is Jeopardizing Funding For Programs Used By Low-Income Americans

Government Shutdown Threatens Funding To Nutrition Programs

USDA: Nutrition Program For Women, Infants, And Children A State-By-State Decision. According to a memo outlining the Department of Agriculture's plan to run supplemental nutrition programs in the event of the shutdown, funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) assistance program will be arranged at the state level through October. If the shutdown continues through October, federal WIC funding may not be sufficient to cover all benefits.

USDA is working with WIC State agencies to use all available funding resources to provide benefits to participants. FNS will be allocating both contingency and carryover funds to State agencies for use in operating their FY 2014 WIC Program, in addition to other available funds. Should a lapse extend through late October, federal WIC funding may not be sufficient to cover benefits. [United States Department of Agriculture, USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service, 10/1/13]

Politico: Despite State Funding For WIC, Recipients Are Losing Benefits Due To Confusion. States can use roughly $100 million in federal contingency funding as well as $280 million in unspent funds from last year's budget to provide benefits through the end of the month. However, the shutdown has created confusion among local agencies and recipients about the availability of benefits. Some states closed WIC offices in response to the federal shutdown, while some grocers turned away WIC recipients believing their federal reimbursement was shut down.

Groups that fight hunger say they are also concerned about the confusion that needy mothers may be feeling. Though most WIC offices are open, many mothers mistakenly assumed that benefits were cut off.

Advocates are also worried that there will be a cumulative effect as other, smaller government feeding programs run out of money.           


Utah's WIC program, though, immediately closed its doors Tuesday in the wake of the government shutdown, meaning that families who hadn't already received their October vouchers were out of luck and new applications couldn't be processed. The state got $2.5 million in USDA funding on Thursday, and WIC offices throughout the state planned to reopen by noon Friday.


In some places, grocery stores refused to honor WIC vouchers, assuming they wouldn't get paid. Terry Bryce, director of Oklahoma's WIC program, said WIC officials called and emailed grocers to assure them the program is still funded. [Politico10/4/13]

Other Crucial Programs Threatened By Shutdown

National Head Start Association: 19,000 Children Could Be Without Preschool Services. The National Head Start Association (NHSA) reported that the government shutdown left 23 programs across 11 states without funding for continued services, effective October 1. The Head Start program has already faced severe budget pressure after sequestration went into effect earlier this year.

On the heels of devastating sequester cuts which closed windows of opportunity for more the than 57,000 at-risk children who lost their Head Start slots, Washington's budget battles have harmed even more of America's most vulnerable families.


This abdication of responsibility by Congress and leaders in Washington has further displaced the at-risk children already reeling from sequester. Government shutdown is one cut atop an already deep wound. [National Head Start Association, 10/1/13]

Think Progress: Deadline To Extend Temporary Assistance For Needy Families Lapses Amidst Shutdown. Due to the federal government shutdown, Congress missed the October 1 deadline to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, formerly known as welfare. States may be able to extend operations through the end of the month, but states have already stopped receiving federal funds.

The TANF block grant that the federal government gives to states to share the cost of welfare programs was scheduled for reauthorization in 2010, but rather than reauthorizing it then Congress instead extended it multiple times. The most recent extension was part of a continuing resolution passed in March that funded the government through the end of September 2013, so it expiredMonday night along with all other government funding.

That means that as of Tuesday, states stopped receiving the funds from the block grant. [Think Progress, 10/1/13]

Think Progress: Shutdown May Halt Job Training Programs. According to a report from Think Progress, the lapse in government funding due to the shutdown may halt employment and training programs for Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries. 

Those employment and training programs, known as SNAP E&T, are being left to their own devices during the shutdown, according to a Department of Agriculture (USDA) document providing answers to questions from anti-hunger groups and program administrators that was obtained by ThinkProgress. The USDA “does not expect any new FY 2014 funding will be available for E&T during the lapse,” the document says repeatedly. Like various other safety net programs, including one that provides food assistance for pregnant women and infants, the amount of cash on hand to cover the loss of funding for these job programs varies from state to state.

SNAP E&T funds go to job training, GED classes, work search and placement programs, and other efforts to help food stamp recipients either find work or improve their job qualifications. While there is no certain cutoff date for SNAP E&T, “the likelihood is if this lasts more than a few more days, they will shut down job training programs,” according to anti-hunger expert Joel Berg. “It's so complex we just don't know how much money is left.” [Think Progress, 10/4/13]


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from October 1 -- the first day of the government shutdown -- through October 7.  We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom!, jobs, growth, debt, deficit, shut down, and shutdown. When transcripts were incomplete, internal video archives were reviewed.

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Evening News (CBS), Face the Nation, Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press with David Gregory, Fox News Sunday, The Situation Room, Crossfire, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Ed Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that aired re-runs, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of the ongoing government shutdown. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5p.m.-11p.m. window.

We defined segments that discussed effects on low-income Americans as those where reduced funding of programs used primarily by low-income Americans -- such as WIC and Head Start -- were highlighted.