The government shutdown is threatening the health of millions of Americans, increasing the risk for harm as the partial closure of key federal agencies enters its second month, say public health, medical and food safety groups.
Hundreds of organizations representing doctors, hospitals and public health urged the White House and Congress to end the government shutdown in a letter last week to President Donald Trump. As of Monday, the shutdown began its 31st day, adding to worries that food safety for Americans was endangered along with the mounting health needs of 800,000 furloughed government workers.
“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,” the more than 280 organizations wrote in their letter, which was sent to Trump at the White House and posted on the Trust for America’s Health website. “We fear a prolonged shutdown will cause needless suffering and have long-lasting health consequences. Basic health protections could be endangered by an ongoing shutdown.”
Worries are mounting about the federal government’s suspension of “routine food inspections except at ‘high-risk facilities,’” and the Food and Drug Administration’s “ability to enforce food safety rules,” the health organizations wrote to Trump. The FDA is “sharply impaired as 40 percent of its workforce is furloughed.”
“The FDA oversees 80 percent of the food supply, and regular inspections and enforcement help stop food borne illness before people get sick,” the health organizations wrote to Trump. “The FDA also will not be able to assess new drug and device applications if the shutdown continues, meaning life-saving innovations will take longer to come to market.”
The White House and key government executives scrambled over the holiday weekend to control damage in the court of public opinion as Trump’s approval numbers tank even among his staunchest Republican supporters.
On Sunday, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said via Twitter that agency staff were continuing to carry on the agency’s mission unpaid while “incurring expenses on their personal government credit cards for travel.”
“We’ve called back about 100 investigators and 35 supervisors to conduct and support domestic food surveillance inspections of high risk products,” Gottlieb Tweeted on Sunday. “These professionals are in addition to FDA staff who were already working high-risk inspections, like foreign food assignments.”
The groups writing to Trump included both state and national organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians as well as the March of Dimes and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Almost seven of the letter’s eight pages were names of local, state and national groups urging Trump and Congress to end the government shutdown.
“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 groups said. “Access to nutrition and food assistance, breastfeeding support and infant nutrition through U.S. Department of Agriculture programs is critical to maintaining health and performance in school and work. Programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are at serious risk of benefit cuts if the shutdown continues.”