No doubt you have heard about the partial government “shut-down” caused by a stand-off between congressional Democrats and President Trump over whether to fund a “wall” that the president wants to erect on the nation’s southwest border to prevent illegal immigration through Mexico. As a result of this disagreement, seven appropriations bills to fund a number of departments and agencies for the current (2019) fiscal year have not yet been enacted. Without funding, all but “essential” employees at these departments and agencies are prohibited from working, and even those who are working will not get paid until their departments’/agencies’ appropriations bills have been enacted. Fortunately, the bill to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education was enacted before the stalemate occurred, so most health programs are not affected by the shut-down. See What Does the Partial Government Shutdown Mean for Medicaid and CHIP? (Blog of the Georgetown Center on Children and Families, 1/4/19); How the Government Shutdown Affects Health Programs (Kaiser Health News, 1/3/19).
There are some health programs that are affected, however. Appropriations for the Indian Health Service (IHS) are provided in the Department of Interior appropriations bill, which has not been enacted. During the shut-down, IHS can continue to staff and operate its hospitals and clinics but it is not able to provide the majority of funds for Tribes and Urban Indian Programs to operate their own facilities. Funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is provided through the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill, which is also on hold. One family is afraid that the shut-down will mean the loss of critical time in the trial of a new drug expected to cure their 6-year-old son’s rare degenerative disease. See Possible Lifesaving Medical Trial on Hold during Govt. Shutdown (KARE News, Minneapolis, MN, 1/8/19). For more details, see FY 2019 HHS Contingency Staffing Plan for Operations in the Absence of Enacted Annual Agriculture and Interior Appropriations.
Nutrition Assistance Programs
Nutrition assistance programs are part of the unfunded Agriculture Department. In a January 8 press release, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue announced that food stamps provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can be provided through February (by issuing the benefits by January 20). Benefits provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will also continue through at least February. School meal programs can be funded through March, even if the shut-down continues. See Food Stamps Guaranteed Through February, USDA Says (CNN, 1/8/19). If the shut-down continues beyond February or March, it is not clear what will happen with these programs.