The shutdown of the federal government affects all Americans in some way, but for one group the consequences are especially dire: low-income women, children and infants.
They are in danger of being cut off from vital nutritional assistance programs because congressional Republicans, in their zeal to kill health care reform and strangle government services, are blind to the basic needs of these vulnerable people.
On Tuesday, the government halted funding to the $7 billion federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, referred to as WIC. WIC provides healthy-food vouchers, nutrition education, and breastfeeding support to about 9 million women and their children nationally. Recipients have income that is less than 185 percent of the Federal poverty income guidelines. States have their own WIC departments and local agencies disburse aid.
Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway, the president of the National WIC Association, told OurFuture.org that those who utilize WIC are “vulnerable mothers and young children” in desperate need of assistance. When asked about states that will be hit the hardest because of the shutdown, Utah and Arkansas stand out, he said, with both states not being able to accept new applicants to their programs.
Salt Lake City’s WIC program will be among those hit hard if assistance runs out before the shutdown ends. Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman for the city’s WIC program, noted that there are about 25,000 people receiving assistance from the city’s six WIC clinics. Rupp says that the program is “not just about handing out food,” but it places a high importance on “nutrition and breastfeeding.”
Tom Hudachko, a Utah Department of Health spokesman, said those who are “already enrolled” for the month of October can still use vouchers when shopping for the rest of the month. However, those with even the most desperate needs without vouchers “can’t get them” because “clinics are being closed.” Right now, the state is receiving assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but after the month of October, assistance will run out.
Arkansas’s WIC programs will also be affected. In August, the state assisted about 87,739 WIC recipients. Cathy Flanagin, a spokesperson from the state’s Department of Health, told OurFuture.org that Arkansas was “able to work out an arrangement with the USDA contingency,” but if the shutdown runs through the month, “this all could change very quickly.” The program is being watched on a “day-to-day basis,” she said.
Meanwhile conservatives dismiss the devastating effects of the shutdown on the millions of women, infants, and children that WIC and other programs help.
On Wednesday, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol commented on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “no one is going to starve in Arkansas” because of the government shutdown. Kristol blatantly ignored the fact that on September 30, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said that “more than 85,000 meals for Arkansas children would not be provided and 2,000 newborn babies would not receive infant formula through the Department of Health’s WIC program.”
According to the group Media Matters, in 2012, 49 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, “including 15.9 million children.” The Nation’s Trudy Lierberman wrote on September 25 that many food assistance programs across the country prior to the shutdown had “already lacked the necessary funds” to ensure that no one went hungry, even when funding from private sources was included.
Just as the GOP’s plan to defund the Affordable Care Act would have affected the country’s most vulnerable citizens, the Republicans of the House continued their attack on them with this government shutdown.
As for state WIC programs, if contingency aid runs out, mothers and children will not be able to get the assistance they need. When asked about what will happen to Utah mothers and children, Hudachko says “There’s a big question mark.”