Cutting Kids: What a Shutdown Means for WIC ParticipantsFederal Budget Health
For more than 50 years, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, better known as WIC, has been one of the most essential federal programs for providing a better future for low-income pregnant women, postpartum and breastfeeding individuals, and infants and children at nutritional risk. WIC provides nearly 7 million mothers and children access to nutritious foods, counseling on healthy eating, and breastfeeding support. A vast body of research confirms that properly nourished children not only have better health outcomes but more actively participate at school and have better focus and information retention. Unfortunately, WIC isn’t a priority for House majority members, and they’re ready to slash the program’s benefits or halt them altogether with a government shutdown.
Since the 1990s, Congress has had a bipartisan agreement to fully fund WIC to support every eligible woman, infant, and child who seeks its services. However, both the House and Senate spending bills fall short of fully funding the program. The House bill would slash WIC’s Cash Value Benefit, cutting fruit and vegetables by 56% for kids and 70% for pregnant and postpartum participants, and force 600,000 women and children onto waiting lists with potentially devastating health consequences.
If the House doesn’t get these cuts, along with draconian attacks on other vital funding for kids, they plan to force the government into a shutdown regardless of the consequences. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers WIC, has a one to two-day contingency fund to support the program, after which states will be forced to keep it going with their limited remaining funds. Funds, and therefore program viability, vary by state. During the 2013 shutdown, some states came within days of having to shut off benefits and leave children without food on the table.
Even states that can weather the shutdown will likely see a drop in WIC participation. Given the confusing nature of the situation, many recipients may assume they have no benefits and may miss recertification appointments, fail to pick up Electronic Benefit Cards or stop using benefits for fear that they no longer qualify or that they will take them away from someone else. This slow dwindling of participation could reverse a multi-year trend in which WIC has increasingly reached more eligible families.
These proposed cuts or a subsequent shutdown blatantly contradict the debt agreement Congress reached in May, and our children will pay the price. We need Congress to pass the Senate’s proposed continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown and the hardships it would bring to many children and families and quickly move the FY 2024 annual spending bills to ensure WIC is fully funded. This is the best way to protect the health and well-being of infants, children, and mothers across the country.