Government Shutdown: 9 Million Moms And Babies At Risk As WIC Program Halts
The government shutdown may be keeping National Parks closed and furloughed federal workers at home, but worse real-world effects could soon be felt by low-income mothers and their infants — already a marginalized group with unstable food supplies.
On Tuesday, the government stopped funding the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.
Over 8.9 million moms and kids under five living near or below the poverty line rely on the program’s supplemental vouchers for healthy food, breastfeeding support, infant formula and other necessities dispensed at clinics nationwide.
The USDA estimates that most states will be able to continue WIC operations as usual for “a week or so” before running out of money. The department’s Food and Nutrition Service has a contingency fund of only $125 million available for this $7 billion annual appropriation.
So far the situation is most dire in Arkansas and Utah, according to Rev. Douglas Greenaway, who heads up nonprofit advocacy group the National WIC Association. Utah’s WIC program, which already serves 65,000 moms and babies, has now stopped accepting new participants.
For Judy Fedie in Wisconsin’s Chippewa Falls office, the phones rang more than usual on Tuesday as shutdown news spread, but it’s business as usual for now. “We know our time is limited, and we’re waiting to hear from the state,” she said.
“I’m worried about a number of things, but top of the list is babies not getting breast milk. In Wisconsin, a can of formula costs $15 and it will maybe last three days. I worry families will be forced to make tough choices about how to feed their babies.”
She added that lactation specialists can be hard to come by in rural parts of the country like her town, which has a population of 60,000. Of those, about 1,250 rely on WIC.
The confusion doesn’t end there. Department heads are fielding phone calls from grocery store owners worried they won’t be reimbursed if they continue to accept WIC vouchers.
“There’s probably six billion and change in food dollars spent in the retail grocery community every year,” said Rev. Greenaway. “So there’s a cost to businesses.”