As a consequence of the USDA's announcement, the Utah WIC office office closed its doors to new clients Tuesday. But Friday, after getting $2.5 million from the USDA, it was slated to begin accepting them again. Other states have also been told they'll be getting funds to keep going through the end of the month. Although federally funded, each state and Indian tribe administers WIC differently.
Although the funding situation isn't as dire as first perceived, there is still confusion and fear among some recipients who figured the shutdown meant WIC was closed for the duration. Also, some grocers refused to take WIC vouchers for fear they wouldn't be paid. The latter situation seems to have been resolved, at least in states where local WIC administrators reached out by email and phone calls to let store owners know the vouchers would be honored.
WIC is a roaring success. Researchers have found the $7 billion program saves lives by lowering infant mortality, raises birth weight, reduces the number of underweight infants, prevents anemia, reduces obesity and helps increase healthy eating habits later in life, and improves memory functions. The program provides vouchers so pregnant women and mothers of children under five can buy cereal, fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods for themselves and their children. Most importantly, WIC provides support for breast-feeding and the purchase of expensive infant formula otherwise beyond the means of impoverished families. There are 8.9 million mothers and children served by the program.
Implemented permanently 38 years ago, WIC now serves 53 percent of the nation's infants and about a fourth of the children aged 1 to 5. Families are eligible in most states if their earnings are 185 percent or less of the federal poverty level. Recipients of Medicaid and food stamps are automatically eligible.
Just before the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had warned that states would run out of WIC cash after a "week or so." Now the agency says WIC should be able to provide benefits through late October, with states using $100 million in federal contingency money released Wednesday and $280 million in unspent funds from the last budget year.If the shutdown drags on until November and WIC does run out of money, a shift to food banks is inevitable. The problem with that is that many do not have infant formula on hand and most of them haven't been able to keep up with the deluge of needy people since the Great Recession started nearly six years ago.
If the aid dries up, desperate moms will probably dilute their babies' formula with water to make it last longer, or simply give them water or milk, said the Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway, head of the National WIC Association, an advocacy group. Pediatricians say children under 1 shouldn't drink cow's milk because they can develop iron deficiency anemia.
Surely, the Republicans who brought us the government shutdown won't be willing literally to take food out of the mouths of babies and mothers. Surely, they won't be as callous as they have been with food stamps, from which they want to slice $40 billion in the next decade. Surely.