Editorial: Shutdown puts WIC at risk


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As the U.S. government shutdown enters its second week, not much seems to have changed for most Americans. The Postal Service is still running, as well as other essential functions. But one government program that provides help for millions of Americans is in danger of running out of funding.

Nearly 9 million Americans rely on Women, Infants, and Children, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides grants to states for supplemental food, health care referrals, and nutrition education. The program is available for low-income recent mothers and children up to 5 years old.

One of the most vital aspects of the program is the assistance it provides to newborns and nursing mothers, covering the cost of often-expensive baby formula and other health needs. In Johnson County, the program provides a child health clinic that offers immunizations, physical examinations, and a maternal health program for pregnant women, among other services.

However, because of the suspension of funds as a result of the shutdown, it was originally thought that states would only be able to run the program for around a week, according to a Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Service memo. Fortunately, the USDA has announced that it will fund the program through the end of October.

Although it has been granted a temporary reprieve, programs such as this creep ever closer to running out of funding as the government shutdown continues, thanks to partisan politics in Washington.

In Iowa, stopping the program would mean that thousands of low-income women and their children could lose their aid.

In 2011, 76,126 Iowan children used Women, Infants, and Children, among other programs. Among those children, 22.5 percent were 0-5 months old, and 70.2 percent were under 3.

There are approximately 22,000 program beneficiaries in Johnson County alone.

Though the government shutdown may not end anytime soon, Congress can and should take action to fund certain programs in the interim. An ideal solution to the suspension of these programs would be to negotiate a deal to the government shutdown entirely. In the absence of that, Congress needs to ensure that vital programs, such as Women, Infants, and Children, are kept funded indefinitely, even if they cannot agree on a larger measure to reopen the government.

For low-income mothers and children, there often is no safety net. Many single mothers are forced to work full-time, sometimes with several jobs, as well as provide for their children. Programs such as Women, Infants, and Children help these families not only to stay healthy, but also to stay alive.

At this point, it’s not yet lights out for the program, but that most aspects of a program that provides invaluable assistance to families are at risk should concern everyone.

The government shutdown may not seem to directly affect many other than furloughed federal workers, at least at first, but as funding sources continue to dry up and more and more public programs are affected, it will grow increasingly difficult for those that rely on government assistance the most to get by.

If a compromise is not reached in Congress soon, Women, Infants, and Children and many other government programs will go dark when the river of government funds runs dry.

Every day that passes makes the personal and economic effect of the shutdown worse; it must end as soon as possible.

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