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The debt ceiling deal has set up a doubly damning conundrum. A Super Congress could recommend devastating cuts to safety net programs, and with Republicans already refusing to consider revenue hikes and inching toward ruling out any defense cuts, that's almost a certainty. So many progressives have been hoping for the lesser devil, the automatic trigger cuts, which hold at least Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid harmless.

But it's faint hope, since the trigger will probably cut funding for subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. In addition, analysts have now found that another trigger target is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children or (WIC). Think Progress has a report from subscription-only Congressional Quarterly.

Lawmakers had initially considered shielding the program known as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children or (WIC) — which provides assistance to “an estimated 9 million pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children under age 5″ — but that provision was not included in the final deal, meaning that it could be vulnerable to sequestration if the 12-memeber Congressional super committee does not agree on a spending plan:
The caps still leave wiggle room to protect some programs while reducing funding for others, said Jim Horney of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It’s not singled out,” said Horney, the center’s federal fiscal policy vice president. “Appropriators could choose to do full funding of WIC although everything will be under pressure.”

WIC, which is funded at $6.7 billion for fiscal 2011, could be more directly affected by debt ceiling provisions that call for sequestration of appropriated program funds in fiscal 2013. Horney said the debt-ceiling negotiations included discussion of an exemption for WIC similar to one it had under a 1990 budget act (PL 101-508), but it was not included in the final version.

[...]Economists estimate that every $1 invested in WIC saves between $1.77 and $3.13 in health care costs in the first 60 days after an infant’s birth by reducing the instance of low-birth-weight babies and improving child immunization rates. In fact, it is estimated that the program has saved more than 200,000 babies from dying at birth.

That's an argument you never hear from austerity-minded politicians—that key safety net programs ultimately end up saving money. That's particularly true for programs that keep people healthier. The costs of untreated illness—from direct hits to the health care system to things like missed days of work or more special needs programs in schools—are significant. Just cutting the people who need these programs off to twist in the wind isn't a policy solution. It's also criminally short-sighted.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Fri Aug 05, 2011 at 10:28 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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