As the government shutdown persists, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, a food program funded by the federal government, is placed at risk.
The WIC program receives funding from the federal government to provide supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education to low-income women and mothers, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. But because of the shutdown, WIC will not receive the funding they need.
All members must be identified as low-income, and the program targets pregnant women, breastfeeding women, infants up until their first birthday and children up until their fifth birthday.
The program is delivered by the federal government through grants. Due to its lack of status as an entitlement program, Congress is required to authorize a specific budget for WIC each year.
State WIC Director at the Department of Health Services, Lisa Murphy said the program is open for business despite the government shutdown.
“[WIC] has sufficient funds to remain fully operational with no changes in services or benefits for at least several weeks,” Murphy said. “All 98,000 participants can redeem their benefits and all retailers will be paid.”
Sue Marshall, director of Dane County’s sect of the program, said the National Advocacy arm of WIC had recently informed her that the USDA, at the federal level, had identified $600 million in funding for programs such as WIC, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other food advocacy programs.
This funding, she said, can keep WIC stable until early February.
But as the government shutdown continues, with presidential threats of it continuing potentially indefinitely, growing concerns over how federally funded programs will continue post-funding has grown. The WIC, being one of those programs, is no exception.
Typically, WIC receives about $90 million federally in the state of Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
Marshall stressed the significance of the program, highlighting the state’s reliance on it.
“Statewide, we’re seeing about 91,000 people,” Marshall said. “Families make up about 55,000 of that. In Dane County, we serve about 4,300 people on the program right now per month. So we’re seeing typically 90 people a day at our clinics. It’s a lot of people that were serving.”
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Marshall also stressed the significance of the population WIC serves, noting the focus on mothers, low-income households, infants, and young children as vulnerable populations.
Marshall pointed to the importance of these programs to these populations.
“In our supplemental nutrition program, we do provide certain foods,” Marshall said. “When the program rolled out in 1974, it was based on studies of these vulnerable populations in the 1960s. Studies found that they were deficient in calcium, iron, vitamin C. When you’re not food secure, your foods don’t always have these nutrients.”
She said to combat this, WIC provides foods that has these nutrients, such as milk, eggs, cereals and produce.
Additionally, WIC can provide infant formula and baby foods for those who require it and meet criteria.
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Marshall said as funding ceases, so do benefits from the program.
“In Madison, we’re super resource-rich,” Marshall said. “We’ll try referring people to food pantries, but it’s already very well utilized. It’s also important to note that, because of the shutdown, a lot of federal employees aren’t getting paid. They may start utilizing those resources, too, and that’s a lot of new people turning to a system that is already being used.”
She added that SNAP had the potential to be impacted as well: As SNAP runs low on funding, those impacted will also turn to food banks and local alternatives. This, Marshall said, will increase the stress on these resources.
Marshall said, however, that WIC would actively try to make sure recipients would receive benefits as soon as funding is reinstated.
“The way that WIC works is we certify clients for a year: Pregnant women during pregnancy and then recertification post-partum,” Marshall said. “For those coming up for recertification, we would try to maintain their certification —once [WIC] is back open we could issue benefits and they’d be active right away.”
These benefits, she said, often come in the form of funding loaded on a debit card, designed to be used to purchase particular items, potentially from local partners.
But as the government continues to be shutdown, local partnerships could face serious losses.
Through partnerships with WIC, Marshall said $2.7 million went back into the local economy last year in Dane County. She expressed concern about the blow to these local partners, and the local economies will face in light of this potentially lost income.
Most importantly, she said, she wants people to know that until funding runs out, WIC is working to make sure every recipient receives.
“Right now, I want people to know WIC is open,” Marshall said. “We’re still serving people and they can redeem their benefits. We want everyone who needs help to get it.”