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Mon Oct 14, 2013 at 12:07 PM PDT

No more food inspections and for some, no more food, as Republican shutdown grinds along on Day 14

byMeteor BladesFollow


As my colleague Laura Clawson noted last week, the Republican shutdown of the federal government is literally taking food out of babies' mouths. In North Carolina, the state has stopped issuing vouchers for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). This provides money for healthy food as well as infant formula and a support program for breast-feeding.

But, Patrick Center reports, WIC is not the only nutrition program that's being held hostage to the tea party's crusade. So is the USDA's Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

In Michigan's western Kent County alone, more than 1,300 low-income seniors depend on the program. For them, it's a nutrition lifeline: They can't just go to a food pantry for similar assistance.

Bill Anderson, 81, and his wife, June, 83, are among those affected. Medical emergencies have depleted their savings. Social Security provides enough money to pay the utilities and insurance, but they turn to the government food program for meals.

While his wife Judy Cusin had to make the announcement to 1,500 Kent County seniors that their next meal wouldn't be coming, Ron had to meet them face-to-face with the final delivery:  "It was heartbreaking, it really was, to talk to either seniors or apartment complexes that I deal with—it was tough. They're like family to me."

Even picking up food already waiting on shelves is against the USDA's rules for the shutdown.

That's a story with a personal resonance for those of us who survived on deliveries of government surplus food in the days half a century ago before food stamps were made available.

There's not good news either for Americans with plenty of money to pay cash to buy all their food:

The Food and Drug Administration confirmed Friday that all routine food inspections have been suspended. The FDA usually conducts about 200 inspections a week. And it's not just 976 of it own employees on furlough that the FDA won't be sending out on inspections. The agency normally pays states to conduct inspections at about $1,300 a pop. The shutdown, Joe Satran reports, means that 8,733 food safety inspections the FDA had commissioned states to perform for the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1 are being delayed. That works out to another 167 postponed inspections per week. Unless you're rich enough to hire a taster, you'll just have to cross your fingers when you chow down.

More stories of the 14-day-old shutdown can be found below.

The Centers for Disease Control, as has been noted widely, has furloughed 8,000 of its 12,000 employees, meaning that investigating matters like outbreaks of food-borne pathogens is being triaged, as only the worst stuff is being monitored. Former Surgeon General and CDC director David Satcher points out at Bloomberg that, in 1996, the CDC on average took 167 days to identify an outbreak. Technological advances have cut that to just 20 days. But the shutdown lengthens that time, which could mean lives lost to the tea party's crusade. Lives and money. Eleven years ago, in November 2002, the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was detected just a few months after its first outbreak in Asia. But even with early detection, SARS killed more than 800 people in 30 countries. The cost to the global economy: $30 billion to $40 billion. Slower detection? Higher costs.

In Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott has made clear the state will not pick up the tab for any federal spending that dries up for, say food stamps, worry may be setting in among recipients that they won't be getting them anymore. "They’re spending their money wisely,” said Eric Trice, an employee at Nichols and Sons Seafood shop. He said he had seen only three food stamps recipients all last week. Normally, he sees up to 15 each day. “We’ve seen a dramatic change in our retail customers, yes,” he said.

At the ports, inspectors from the Consumer Product Safety Commission have been furloughed, preventing screening of products, including children's toys that may have too much lead or sleepwear that could be flammable. During the first half of 2012, CPSC inspectors had prevented over one million products from hitting the shelves.

Hospital and nursing home inspections in Illinois are being scaled back because of the shutdown. The Illinois Department of Public Health gets about $1.3 million a month to pay for inspections of medical facilities, but that money's been stopped because of the shutdown. IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said the agency is still inspecting facilities when there are specific complaints about a location. She said: "A couple of weeks may not have that big of an impact. If the shutdown persists for an extended period of time, cash flow and supporting federal programs will become a more critical issue in the weeks ahead."

NBC highlights some voices of people telling the impact of the shutdown on them personally: a furloughed federal worker, a fishing guide, a college student.

In Tennessee, nearly 400 employees of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Human Services have been furloughed as of Monday because they are partially funded by federal monies. Labor and Workforce gets 79 percent of its budget from the feds. The state's Disabilities Determination Division "is continuing to operate and serve Tennesseans at this point," according to HHS spokesman Christopher Garrett. But he noted that the division "is 100 percent federally funded. If the shutdown continues, the DDS operation will be impacted further."

In New Mexico, as in all the other states, many military veterans are worried about what happens if the shutdown isn't over before $6 billion in benefit checks are scheduled to be paid. The 8,000 Veterans Administration employees who handle the benefits system are on furlough and nobody is processing the more than 250,000 disability claims that are already backlogged for months. Thousands of the nation's five million veterans living in the Land of Enchantment who receive disability checks, pension payments and college assistance on the GI Bill are at risk. Jim Stanek is one of them. He had four tours with the Army in Iraq and was wounded with a brain injury. “It’s like we’re just a pawn at this point in time, in a chess game, just kicked to the side,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to them how we feel, how it impacts us. It doesn’t just impact me. It impacts my wife, my son. It impacts the whole community out here. What if I miss house payments? What if I lose my house?”

Seismologists monitoring earthquakes at the U.S. Geological Service in Pasadena, California, are down to a skeleton crew.

Business travel professionals are worried the shutdown is going to negatively affect them, according to a study by the Global Business Travel Association. It found 66 percent of them are concerned a shutdown longer than a week will hurt their business. Fifty-nine percent are concerned about the impact of a government default. Anxiety is rising with the shutdown now entering its third week. GBTA reports that some 40 percent of respondents say the shutdown has already negatively affected them, their company and/or other company employees because of canceled meetings and canceled air and lodging bookings. U.S. business travel has been forecast to reach $273 billion in 2013, above pre-recession levels for the first time.

In Missouri, the government shutdown is delaying the building of safe rooms, according to several school districts. Interest in building these spiked in the state after a May 22, 2011, tornado cut a wide swath through Joplin and killed 161 people. Many schools were damaged or destroyed. The village of Avilla in southwest Missouri is planning a 5,000-square-foot cafeteria that doubles as a safe room for a school that draws students from the surrounding rural area. But completed plans for that safe room and others are being held up, according to the architect on the projects, Brad Erwin. "With FEMA people being out of the office, they can't do the technical review," he told the Southeast Missourian, "and then the people up the chain from there—financial compliance, etc.—aren't working either. All those projects will have a delay in getting released."

Federal courts are jettisoning some civil cases for the duration of the shutdown. That means what could potentially be big delays as the backlog builds even worse than usual. Immigration courts are mostly closed. That presents a problem for Columbian national Rafael Sanchez. He has been waiting two years to get into court to plead his case for a green card. He and his family overstayed their U.S. tourist visa in 1997. Their hearing in New Hampshire was scheduled for Oct. 9, but it was canceled because of the shutdown. If that case isn't rescheduled fairly soon, it could hurt the chances that Sanchez's daughter Karina will have in going the college. The high school senior cannot qualify for financial aid without that green card.

Scientific research already suffering from shutdown. Delays in receiving government data or collecting their own data could weaken or fatally wound some research. For example, Perrin Ireland at the Natural Resources Defense Council points out, October is a major month for those that study birds because it’s migration time. But federal scientists can't band migrating birds to monitor them. Nor can they keep track of birds they banded last season. Banding provides key data about species that may be in danger. And birds, as Rachel Carson noted 51 years ago, act as barometers for ecosystem dysfunction.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Oct 14, 2013 at 12:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.









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