There are only six days left until a possible government shutdown brings this glistening mega-mall we call America to a screeching halt. And unlike previous government shutdowns, it seems more than likely that millions of Americans reliant on food stamps could be left without a thing to eat as a result.
The reason? Unlike the last Republican-led government shutdown in 2013, we don't actually have any reserve funds to keep the food stamps program alive while allowing for a bit of good ol' American grandstanding.
In fact, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio—who has been one of the more vocal opponents of the looming shutdown—has warned that we were actually forced to use up all the surplus funds during the previous shutdown two years ago.
If government funding for food stamps—formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—dries up at the start of October, "millions of hard-working American families could be left without a lifeline," Senator Brown told The Columbus Dispatch. "We have seven days left to figure out how to fund the government."
Why the shutdown? The budget year ends next week and a temporary funding bill is needed because—you guessed it—Congress can't agree on anything. A battle centered on the federal funding of Planned Parenthood has them stopped in their tracks.
Just in case you were wondering how many potential empty mouths we're talking about, roughly 45 million Americans received food stamp benefits in 2014. The average recipient of food stamps receives only around $1.40 per meal.
Just last week, the US Department of Agriculture, which administers food stamps on the federal level, warned states not to reload the cards of food stamp recipients starting in October because there isn't enough money to cover them. As Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, who runs a food bank, put it, "We are deeply concerned." She added, "This is not some game. This is a matter of life and death for some of our most vulnerable citizens."
US Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, said that cutting off benefits could be especially problematic because some food stamp recipients literally run out of food at the end of the month, just before the benefits kick in.
But, never fear, people. Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts has the solution. He says Democratic senators who were concerned about the potential lapse in SNAP benefits should simply vote yes on the Republican Senate bill that would deny funding to Planned Parenthood. Easy peasy, no?
Incidentally, Roberts has also introduced a bill that would cut a whopping $36 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Hopefully, this mess will sort itself out soon—i.e., before millions of Americans are relegated to empty fridges and barren cupboards.