While House Republicans continue their quest to bully President Obama into submission over Obamacare, Black people in cities nationwide continue to suffer due to the crippling government shutdown.
Already in a considerably more vulnerable place than much of the rest of the country as a result of the crushing impact of the economic recession on Black employment, the hits just keep on coming for inner-city residents disproportionately reliant on government aid.
Democratic National Committee Secretary and Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings- Blake speaks with anger when she describes the impact the political standoff—stretching into its third week—has had on the lives of low-income citizens of her city.
Baltimore is one of 10 major cities with the highest concentration of African Americans nationwide. As of 2010, that number stood at 64.3 percent.
“I get so frustrated because after fighting so hard for over $1 billion in school construction so we could build world-class schools in Baltimore, we know that the government shut down is putting Head Start programs across the country in jeopardy,” she gives as an example while on a conference call to Black journalists across the nation. “Meaning, early childhood education — which everyone knows is the best way to ensure the future of our young people — is put in jeopardy. It’s, in my mind, pure foolishness, and it shows how out of touch the Republicans are.”
Though his city has only a .02 percent population of Blacks and Native Americans, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Ryback echoed Blake’s sentiments. “As mayors we’ve got to get the job done and they’re simply not on the job in Washington, he says. “The games that are being played in Washington are hitting hard on main street Minnesota. We see that 1 in 4 of the 18,000 federal workers in this state could be furloughed, including already those who served – veterans, those who are involved in public health. Our businesses are being impacted. Certainly small business loans but also electronic – our critically important medical device maker, having product approvals delayed because of the shutdown,” he says pointing to a setback that affects everyone, regardless of color. He also pointed to some matters of life or death his office have been alerted about — further illustration of just how serious the effects of the shutdown have been. “There [are some parents] in St. Paul whose son was in a very serious car accident and is in a coma,” he explained. “They’re trying to set up a benefit to [offset medical costs] but because the federal government is shut down they can’t get the information they need from the IRS to do the benefit.”
Ryback goes on to express his dismay over the nation’s children – a majority of them Black and other minorities — impacted by the stall to Head start programs. “A worker who loses pay can get that back pay but it had tremendous inconveniences, “ he says, “but a child who does not get an early start [through Head start] never gets to make that time up again. The learning that’s being lost, the protection and the growth that we have for those kids is not something you can turn off and on like a faucet.”
Rawlings-Blake and Ryback are hardly alone in their outrage, shared by millions of Americans from every walk of life.
Other mayors are expressing similar frustration with the congressional gridlock, which, according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, has been a political disaster, with one in three Washington, D.C. residents, for instance, saying the shutdown has directly impacted their lives, and 65 percent saying it’s doing quite a bit of harm to the economy.
“The Liberty Bell is closed. Independence Hall is closed. I’ve run into people from foreign countries that have come to America to see these great symbols of America and cannot see them because the federal government of the United States of America is closed ” Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter says incredulously. “That makes us look stupid, frankly, and backwards as a country,” he adds. “Certainly tourism is a significant portion of the economy in Philadelphia and my fellow mayors have the same issues and challenges in their cities – that’s about an economic hit,” he says. “Our [cities’] economies again will take a hit during this course in time when folks are already not working. It’s nonsense.”
Rawlings-Blake adds that there is also a psychological effect on struggling African Americans as a result of the shutdown. “The main thing that I hear [in my city] is the anxiety that it causes our community,” she says. “When you depend on WIC benefits, when you depend on food stamps and you see, every day, a dysfunctional government, there’s an insecurity that builds because you know that your livelihood is in jeopardy. You’re vulnerable, and its’ because of political gain,” she explains. “Baltimore has the highest concentration of the state’s elderly and the highest population of people living in poverty and they’re afraid,” she says.
“There was already a debate over SNAP benefits going on before the shutdown,” adds Nutter. “And then there’s still the issue of Obama care, which [Republicans] are trying to do away with. Seven million African Americans will get health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act and even though the shutdown effort has failed to stop the ACA from advancing it’s about the fear – the fear that this country is not taking care of its people.”