Government Shutdown 2019: What the Health Care for the Homeless Community Needs to Know

There are many questions and serious concerns about how the partial shutdown of the U.S. Federal Government is impacting programs and services important to people experiencing homelessness and the providers who serve them. Unfortunately, we still don’t have answers to many questions since a shutdown of this nature has never happened before—frustratingly, much is still unknown. Below is the information we have so far to inform the HCH community about what’s happening and to provide some guidance about what to tell clients who are worried about how the shutdown will impact them.

1. Why Is This Happening?

Each year, Congress passes a budget to fund federal programs for the next year, and the President typically signs the budget into law. However, only six of 15 government departments had their funding finalized into law. While Congress (both House and Senate) passed a budget for the remaining nine departments in December, the President has refused to sign off on these budgets unless they include $5.7 billion for a wall along the Southern border. While the Senate could override the Presidential veto, it has not yet chosen to do so. Because of this impasse, the nine departments currently do not have any authorized funding and have been shut down (with some exceptions for essential services). The political disagreement has created the longest government shutdown in American history. Read a breakdown on the shutdown.

2. What HCH-Related Departments and Programs Are Affected?

Affected by the Shutdown:

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which funds government-subsidized public housing, rental assistance (such as Section 8 vouchers), and Homeless Assistance Grants (such as Continuum of Care programs).
  • The Department of Agriculture, which funds food programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps), the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and the National School Lunch program.
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ), which funds domestic violence shelters and other emergency services.
  • The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, which funds cash assistance and other services for low-income families, and the Indian Health Service (IHS), which provides care to 2.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives. (Note: these programs are run under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which is funded and not affected otherwise but are subject to the shutdown because of how the funds are provided).
NOT Affected by the Shutdown:
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which administers Medicare, Medicaid, health centers (to include HCH programs), Ryan White funding, the National Health Service Corps, and other major health-related programs (TANF and IHS are exceptions: see more above and below).
  • The Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers social security income payments, to include disability income assistance (SSI and SSDI).
  • The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), which runs over 150 hospitals across the country and provides care to 9 million veterans. The VA is running at 96% capacity and processing times for disability claims and other services might slow down.
  • The Department of Education, which oversees education programs, student loans, and coordinates with HHS on runaway and homeless youth programs.

View an infographic showing what departments are affected by the shutdown and learn more about what’s opened and closed.

3. What Do I Need to Know?

On Health Care: Funding for major health programs from HHS such as Medicaid and health centers is not impacted, and programs are currently running as usual. As mentioned above, the Indian Health Service is not funded, which is having devastating effects on native populations due to the shutdown.

On Housing: When and how HUD-funded programs will be affected by the shutdown is complicated and varies by program, location, and the financial status of housing authorities and landlords. Here is a condensed overview of the impact on a few major programs:

  • The Section 8 program funds project-based rental assistance to private housing properties. Hundreds of these contracts expired in December, and other contracts will continue to expire in the coming months. HUD has asked private owners to cover costs, but their ability to do so is unknown.
  • The Section 8 program also funds Housing Choice Vouchers which allow tenants to find their own private housing, and these vouchers will be distributed through the end of February, although processing and waitlists for new vouchers will not be running.
  • The many organizations that receive Homeless Assistance Grants (which fund CoC programs) are starting to feel the effect of lost payments, and their ability to continue services will vary depending on the organization.

Unfortunately, our partners at the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) report that some tenants in Section 8 project-based rental assistance homes may face eviction due to contracts that expired in December. NHLP is asking that tenants in this situation call them for assistance to intervene: email Jim Grow or Bridgett Simmons. These unconscionable evictions should affect a small portion of people relying on HUD benefits, but the situation will become more precarious and put more people at risk as HUD contracts continue to expire and federal funding continues to be withheld for other programs. While the future is unknown, the law does not allow a landlord to evict tenants because of a lapse in government funding. Regardless of the situation, people that face eviction or disruption of housing services should seek legal assistance immediately.

Our housing partners have created a summary of the impact on HUD programs, a map of expiring HUD contracts, and a memo including contact information for national assistance and legal guidance on different HUD programs.

On Food: The SNAP program is currently funded through the end of February but to avoid possible disruption, February benefits are being allocated early (by January 20). However, some states do not have the technical capacity to receive the early funds and are working to fix this. There is not enough money to fully fund SNAP for the month of March, and it is not currently known whether funds will be distributed. The department announced that the WIC program will be funded through the end of February. The National School Lunch Program, which provides free and reduced meals for more than 30 million youth, is fully funded through the end of March.

On TANF: Funding for TANF expires at the end of January, but there are many ways states can make up for these funds if they lapse. Currently, there are no reports of states holding back funds for this program.

Learn more about these programs and others affected by the shutdown.

4. What Do I Tell My Clients?

There is a fine line between empowering people with the information they need to know and causing unnecessary panic. Because a shutdown has never lasted this long, we just don’t know what will happen. Use your best judgment when talking with your clients.

On Health Care and Income: Social security income, health insurance (like Medicaid), health centers (like HCH programs), and most other health programs are not a part of the shutdown and are continuing to run as usual.

On Housing: The law does not allow a landlord to evict a tenant because of a lapse in government funding, and at this time the majority of people should not be at risk for eviction. While there are no guarantees on how landlords and housing authorities will react to lost funding, tenants have legal rights. If someone receives a threat or eviction notice they should seek legal assistance immediately from a local agency and/or NHLP if they receive an eviction notice: email Jim Grow or Bridgett Simmons. For more information on specific programs, see the description and resources provided under “What do I need to know?” Above all, clients should continue to pay their portion of the rent and utilities, and continue to uphold their responsibilities under the lease.

On Food: The government has committed to funding SNAP and WIC benefits through February (with SNAP funds coming on or around January 20 in most states). February’s benefits will be distributed earlier than usual, so remember to budget these to last through the entire month, or longer. If the shutdown continues until March, there may be a lapse in funding for food stamps, but details on this are not yet known.

On TANF: While funding expired in December, states have their own funds to cover this program for the time being. We don’t know what will happen if the shutdown goes on through the spring, and it is possible that states will cut back funds.

5. What Can I Do?

Congress has the power to end the shutdown by overriding the President’s veto. Tweet, call, or write to your members of Congress to let them know how you and your clients are being impacted by the shutdown. This is especially crucial if your state has a Republican Senator. Find your elected official. Our partners at the National Alliance of HUD Tenants have compiled sample talking points and short scripts (for both Democrats and Republicans) as well as other ways for tenants to take action in their comprehensive action alert.

Take action locally! Your members of Congress have local offices, and you can call or set up meetings with staff (office locations will be listed on your Senator’sandRepresentative’swebsites).It is crucial that those impacted by the shutdown share their story to all who will listen. Be vocal: look for rallies and protests to raise awareness about the damaging effects and hold our lawmakers accountable. Make sure our government knows about the mass devastation caused by this shutdown!

You also can share your concerns or story with us, and we will amplify it through our national advocacy partners and to Congress.

In Solidarity,

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council


  • Regina Reed, MPH, National Policy Organizer: email or call (443) 703-1337
  • Barbara DiPietro, PhD, Senior Director of Policy: email or call (443) 703-1346
Interested in learning more about public policy issues related to homelessness and health care reform and how you can get involved to help spur constructive policy change? If you haven’t yet, sign up for our Mobilizer action alert.

This publication and all HCH advocacy are funded by dues from Organizational Members of the Council and by private donations. Consider joining the Council to support this work.