As the partial government shutdown creeps closer to its one-month mark, President Donald Trump appears unable to agree on a spending deal with Congressional leaders that would re-open shuttered federal agencies. But as the stalemate drags on, a number of health organizations have written to Trump about the shutdown. In their letter, nearly 300 public heath, health advocacy, and civil rights organizations warn that a prolonged shutdown could have long-lasting consequences on American's health.
"Several agencies' ability to provide critical services, ranging from food and environmental risk inspections to health services, have already been drastically reduced or are threatened if the shutdown continues," a letter addressed to President Trump, dated Thursday, and signed by 292 organizations read. "We fear a prolonged shutdown will cause needless suffering and have long-lasting health consequences."
The groups went on to warn that "basic health protections could be endangered by an ongoing shutdown." They called on the president to work with Congress to "immediately" re-open the government in an effort to "minimize any further impact on the public's health and wellbeing."
While nearly 300 organizations had signed the letter to President Trump as of Thursday, it was reportedly spearheaded by Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and a handful of other health groups. In a statement released earlier this week, TFAH President and CEO John Auerbach warned the organization was learning more about the negative health impacts of an extended shutdown every day.
"A continued shutdown will create an emergency for families who rely on government assistance to pay for rent, heat, food, and medical care," he said. "It will put the health and safety of all the nation's residents at risk as such things as safety inspections are suspended."
Organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, Human Rights Campaign, the National Environmental Health Association, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America were among the nearly 300 health, public health, health advocacy, and civil rights groups to sign the letter.
According to the letter, the signed organizations worry that a reduced workforce at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the agency's suspension of routine food inspections at facilities not considered to be "high risk" could jeopardize basic health protections designed to prevent and stop foodborne illnesses.
But the signed organizations warn that a prolonged government shutdown — even a partial one like we're experiencing now — will also lead to "increased environmental risks" that could ultimately harm public health. They note that the shutdown has forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend inspections at chemical factories, power plants, and water treatment facilities. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has also been forced to cease investigations and assessments of environmental health threats, according to the letter. According to Politico, SNAP recipients are likely to receive their February benefits early, but may have to wait 40 days or more before receiving additional SNAP benefits from the Department of Agriculture due to the lapse in government funding.
But even that isn't the end of the shutdown's potential effects, according to the organizations behind the letter. "The shutdown is having cascading impacts on the public's health through loss of income and potential cuts to programs that families rely on for health and economic stability," the letter reads, citing nutrition and food assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
"Residents simply cannot maintain their health without stable housing, food and medical care," the letter noted, urging President Trump to work with Congress to immediately end the shutdown.