Shutdown Threatens WIC Nutrition Program for Low-Income Americans

Thursday, 03 Oct 2013 06:24 AM

By Todd Beamon

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The nutritional needs of nearly nine million low-income women and children are threatened with the federal government's halting of funds for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

“There are health consequences when mothers cannot provide food and nutrition for their kids,” the Rev. Douglas Greenaway, head of the nonprofit advocacy group the National WIC Association, told Forbes on Wednesday. “There’ll be no infant formula and no breastfeeding support. If the baby doesn’t latch, that’s it.”

The program, known as WIC, provides supplemental vouchers to more than 8.9 million mothers and children living near or below the federal poverty line, Forbes reports. The vouchers pay for healthy food, breastfeeding support, infant formula, and other services at clinics nationwide.

WIC is financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“No additional funds would be available to support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children clinical services, food benefits, and administrative costs,” the agency said on its website, according to the local CBS Radio affiliate in Miami.

However, a Newsmax check of the USDA site found that it was down due to the government furloughs.

Meanwhile, most states will be able to operate their WIC programs for “a week or so” at standard levels before running out of money, USDA officials told Forbes.

The department has a $7 billion annual budget, but only has about $125 million in contingency funds for its Food and Nutrition Service, according to Forbes.

Greenaway said that Utah had stopped accepting new WIC participants. About 65,000 mothers and children are served by that program. The situation also is dire in Arkansas, he said.

Meanwhile, in Chicago and Cook County, Margaret Saunders has been working since Tuesday to address participants' concerns.

“We have an active case load of 50,000 moms,” Saunders, head of that area's WIC program, told Forbes. “That’s a lot of people to reassure.”

Saunders charged that the shutdown made matters worse for an already vulnerable population.

“America is not realizing how many low-income pregnant women and children we have in this country,” she told Forbes. “They have no safety net. These women are trying to have a healthy pregnancy, and they’re asking, ‘How am I going to feed my family?’ It’s a terrifying moment — and it’s beyond my control.

"At our agency, we have no cushion," Saunders said. "If our funding stream stops, we will temporarily suspend service.”

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