The government shutdown hasn't hobbled most of the safety net for the nation's poor, elderly and sick, but if the congressional impasse drags into November, several programs that help families buy food will be in trouble -- meaning a prolonged shutdown could steal food from babies.
Most states have been able to use leftover funds to maintain the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, but they will soon run out of money.
"Should a lapse extend through late October, federal WIC funding may not be sufficient to cover benefits," the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a contingency plan it released on the eve of the shutdown. Five states have already threatened to partially close their WIC programs, only to relent after the USDA provided contingency funds. As the department warned, the extra cash won't last long.
Nationwide, the program assists 9 million poor women and children by helping families buy formula and other nutritious food. In fiscal 2011, the most recent year for which data is available on the USDA's website, WIC reached 4.7 million children younger than five years old and 2.1 million infants.
Since the government closed two weeks ago, states have had to use their own funds to sustain the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides benefits to 4 million Americans -- mostly poor parents and children. What happens next for individual enrollees depends on which state they live in.
North Carolina announced Monday it would be shuttering TANF, known as Work First in the state. A spokesman for the state's Department of Health and Human Services told WRAL.com that "no new approved applications for Work First should be processed because of the unavailability of federal funds."
Michigan's budget director warned last week that the state has less than a month's worth of funding to support its TANF program.
3. Head Start
The national Head Start Program serves 1 million low-income preschool-age children and their families. Many programs give kids two meals a day.
Some local Head Start programs closed almost as soon as the government shut down, but then reopened after philanthropists donated $10 million. The National Head Start Association, a nonprofit advocacy group, has said Congress better strike a deal soon.
"If the government does not reopen by Nov. 1, additional Head Start programs serving more than 86,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. Territory stand to lose access to Head Start funding," the association said in a release.
4. Furloughed workers
Hundreds of thousands of government workers have been furloughed with no pay, and some of them have kids to feed. Debbie Donaldson, a 52-year-old Department of Interior worker in Littleton, Colo., told her daughter they'd have to pass on buying new winter boots this year so they could have money for food instead.
“I told her, ‘You want to eat or you want boots?” Donaldson recalled to HuffPost last week.
5. Food stamps?
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps, is the biggest program that might be in trouble if the shutdown continues through November. On the eve of the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released contingency plans that said only, "eligible households will still receive monthly benefits for October." What happens in November remains unclear; a spokesman for the agency has declined to provide new information.
More than 47 million Americans, nearly half of them children, receive SNAP benefits averaging $133 per month.
The USDA announced Monday that it had enough money to maintain child nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch program, for several months.
Nick Wing contributed to this report.