As if furloughing 800,000 federal employees and jeopardizing the entire country aren't bad enough, hundreds of patients will not be getting treatment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including children with cancer. Officials have said that for every week the shutdown endures, 10 children with cancer will be unable to begin their clinical trials.
Part and parcel of this worrisome situation results from a separation of who and what the federal government deems "essential" and "non-essential." At the NIH, the largest research hospital in the world, 14,700 staff were not considered vital enough to keep working and delivering their services.
Who then are the 1.3 million "essential" workers? What are they doing that deserves — an albeit, delayed — paycheck? A partial list of agencies and personnel that are exempted include the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. military, all embassies abroad, Social Security (mostly), emergency medical services, border patrol, federal prison staff, air traffic control, passport and visa agencies, and of course, members of Congress.
Depending on how long the shutdown persists, citizens expecting unemployment aid, veteran's benefits, or assistance from programs like Women, Infants and Children program could be cut off. Furthermore, agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development won't be distributing housing vouchers and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention will halt its seasonal flu program.
This means that while the citizenry breaks a sweat over their bank accounts and benefits, our elected leadership drunkenly squabbles on payroll, holds the economy hostage, and even continues to fund an already expensive drone campaign over Pakistan.
So, if you are a war veteran trying to get benefits, living below the poverty line and attempting to feed your family, or say, a child with cancer waiting for treatment at the NIH, you're stuck until Congress gets it shit together.