The first time I remember ever hearing anything about budget impasses or government shutdowns was during the fall/winter of 1995-96 when the Federal Government shutdown twice after President Clinton vetoed a spending bill sent to him by Congress. I remember feeling apprehensive at the thought of our government shutting down. How long would it last? What would happen? Once it was all over, however, what I remember most about these shutdowns was that Yosemite National Park was closed during the shutdown and people who had planned vacations to the park were quite upset. (I was living in California at the time.) Upon reflection, I’m certain there were other, more pressing problems this shutdown caused, like the curtailment of health and welfare services for military veterans, or the suspension of disease surveillance by the CDC, or the furlough of government workers during the holiday season.
Fast forward to the present where it seems that government shutdowns or the threat of a shutdown is a regular occurrence. Take for instance my state of Pennsylvania, where on June 30, 2015, Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the budget bill passed by the General Assembly. It is three months later and the state of Pennsylvania is still operating without a budget. Just yesterday (9/29) Governor Wolf vetoed a stopgap spending bill. While most governmental functions continue, billions of dollars are not flowing to public schools and other social services providers. Caught in this budget impasse are food banks, pantries and other emergency food providers who rely on food from the state food purchase program. Typically food banks and pantries participating in the state food purchase program receive a line of credit which can be drawn down to purchase food to be used for distribution at the food bank or pantry. Unfortunately, no emergency food provider has received their current fiscal year allotment.
Fortunately, not all emergency food providers are feeling the pinch as a result of this budget impasse, due in part to how they are funded. For instance Philabundance, which is funded mostly with private donations, is probably not feeling the loss of these funds, but at the small food pantry where I volunteered yesterday the effects of the lack of this state funding were readily apparent. The shelves that hold the state supplied food were only half full. The pantry had no milk and very little meat, most of which was ground beef. I have never seen the supplies so depleted! Clients left the pantry with a smaller supply of food. Each week that passes without a resolution to this budget stalemate will result in a dwindling supply of state food for this pantry’s clients.
The purpose of this blog post is not to point fingers or lay blame on one side or the other. Rather, I would like to make readers aware of the consequences resulting from the current unwillingness to compromise that seems to exist at all levels of government. These are real people, often children, senior citizens and people who are disabled, who are being impacted. I worry that as a society we are becoming complacent with our politicians’ unwillingness to compromise. Or even worse, that we view their actions as a virtue. Unfortunately, there are real life consequences when both sides are unwilling to negotiate. The time has come for all politicians to get back to the work of governing, and sometimes that means sitting down with someone who has political beliefs different from the ones you hold and working together through compromise to reach a solution.