The Black Side: A hard but valuable lesson

By Perri Black

The ongoing partial government shutdown makes me angry. It seems that the "powers that be," who are immune to its effects, are playing politics with little consideration for how it impacts people’s lives. One of the random talking heads out there in TV land called the whole situation “asinine” — I call it immoral, unethical, and childish.

I wonder if members of Congress and high-ranking government officials would behave differently if they had to struggle through every day like the rest of us. Would they be shutting down the government if it meant they wouldn’t get their regular paycheck? How would they face their landlords and mortgage holders if they could not make the required payments on time because their wages were being delayed? What would they say to their credit card companies? And how would they feel about possibly losing everything they have worked for?

Apparently, the government Office of Personnel Management even provided letter templates that federal employees can use to help when dealing with landlords, creditors, and mortgage companies during the shutdown (however, the OPM stressed it could not provide legal advice to the employees). I expect that landlords, mortgage brokers, and utilities companies will be amused. And I wonder if those credit card companies charging high interest rates will give federal employees an interest-free break until the government gets back to work?

Now it seems income tax refunds might be delayed and funding for food stamps — now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — may end in February if the shutdown continues. According to a Washington Post article (printed in the Portland Press Herald, Jan. 5, 2019), this could significantly affect 38 million low-income Americans who depend on tax returns to pay bills and SNAP benefits to feed their families. Many government workers live paycheck to paycheck — if this shutdown goes on much longer, more people could go hungry and lose many of the things they have worked hard to achieve.

The situation is bad and could certainly get worse — I hope the leaders and decision makers start acting like adults and resolve the problem soon, for everyone’s benefit. However, in the meantime, perhaps there is one small but important lesson to be learned.

With so many people facing financial and food insecurity, perhaps some previously held perceptions will begin to change, specifically those related to food pantry users. Those who have never experienced need or genuine hunger often find it difficult to empathize with others struggling with insecurity. They may misjudge people who use food pantries and other community services, thinking they are just lazy, or don’t want to work, or are only looking for free handouts. But the shutdown has forced many into a position where they may now have to take advantage of these services, including local food pantries and free community meals.

This shutdown shows that anyone can face food insecurity through no fault of their own. Circumstances change, often suddenly, and someone who previously had a stable, independent life, may find that they are in need of help. That someone could be you.

Maybe this shutdown will help change some judgmental views and encourage better understanding and consideration of others.

It is a hard way to learn an uncomfortable lesson, and I hope the shutdown ends soon so lives can return to normal. But if the fallout from the shutdown helps promote a little more empathy, kindness, and understanding, at least some good will have come from it.

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