The result, state-based WIC advocates and administrators fear, is that they may have to start putting people on waiting lists to receive assistance like breastfeeding support, milk formula and other nutritional aids.
Those warnings became more urgent after Congress passed a stopgap spending bill last week that left out the White House’s request for $1 billion in additional funding to cover the program’s rising costs. WIC – the result of increased enrollment since the Covid-19 pandemic and record food prices.
Many Democrats voted last week in favor of the short-term spending bill aimed at averting a government shutdown, even though it did not include the White House request. But they made it clear they would continue to fight for funding next year.
“Failing to fully fund WIC for the first time is in no way an acceptable outcome to me,” the Senate Appropriations chairman said. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said last Wednesday evening, just before the short-term funding package was passed.
The next opportunity to increase WIC funding will come Jan. 19, when the short-term spending bill covering food and farm programs expires. That gives lawmakers just five legislative weeks to reach an agreement on WIC and other spending hot spots.
“It’s like we’re on the railroad tracks and I see a train coming,” said Paul Throne, director of Washington State WIC. “We know costs continue to rise and we are not getting relief. So the train hasn’t hit us yet, but we can see it coming.
First established as a pilot program in 1972, WIC has become a key part of the nation’s social safety net. The program provides breastfeeding support to new mothers, and formula and other nutritional supports to about half of all babies born in the United States. WIC participation has increased in most states, especially as increased fruit and vegetable cash benefits during the pandemic have made it more important. attractive to eligible low-income moms and their young children. Food costs have also skyrocketed in recent years, reducing the reach of federal funds.
In some states where enrollment has been particularly high, this has led administrators to warn that, by 2024, some mothers and children could be denied benefits or placed on waiting lists until funding is available.
“Every day we deny funds to WIC, it puts women, infants and children’s nutrition at risk,” the representative said. Rosa De Laurothe top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said during debate over the funding plan last week.
Traditionally, WIC funding has enjoyed bipartisan support, more so than other federal nutrition programs. But House Republicans are pushing to cut WIC spending this year, arguing that drastic cuts are needed in government amid the nation’s growing debt.
Republicans note that Johnson’s interim plan continues a measure from the September federal funding patch, which allows USDA to spend current WIC funding more quickly to avoid any interruption of WIC benefits until mid -January.
representative Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee on Labor, Health, Human Services and Education, recently argued that nothing prevents USDA from requesting more funding from the Bureau management and budget for WIC if the program ran short during the shutdown. – gap period.
“If this becomes a problem, it’s because the administration is deliberately creating a problem by not allocating the necessary funds,” Aderholt said.
But even some House conservatives have expressed distrust about WIC funding levels proposed by top Republicans. representative Ralph Normand (RS.C.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, initially questioned what he called WIC “cuts” in the House GOP farm spending bill this summer , telling Democrats he agreed with their criticism of declining WIC funding. level in the legislation.
Norman added that Democrats and Republicans should work together to secure other spending offsets in an effort to save WIC.
White House Domestic Policy Council officials convened a series of meetings this fall with anti-hunger advocates as they sought to pressure lawmakers to fully fund WIC in any measure of interim financing, according to two people familiar with the meetings who were granted anonymity. to discuss private conversations.
The White House also invited grower organizations, which are a key part of the WIC program’s fruit and vegetable benefits and have a large presence in GOP-controlled agricultural districts.
Democrats hope to restart negotiations over WIC funding as the Jan. 19 deadline for funding food and farm programs approaches, possibly by tapping other funds to finance the increase.
Without action from Congress, Minnesota WIC Director Kate Franken said states would be forced to add families to waiting lists for the first time in nearly 30 years.
“If WIC funding is not adequate and funds are cut, our families and communities will suffer the consequences,” Franken said.