After meeting with President Obama Friday, Republican senators said they are feeling positive about the chances of reaching a deal to end the government shutdown.
Women’s advocates are hoping their optimism is well-founded. If a partial shutdown doesn’t end by Oct. 31, the federal government’s WIC program, aka the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, is at risk in Pennsylvania and many other states.
More than 250,000 women and children throughout Pennsylvania use WIC vouchers each year to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, baby formula and other foods.
Pennsylvania’s health department is putting together a contingency plan and asking local WIC offices to scour their budgets for potential savings. But state officials don’t know yet if that could keep WIC running past October.
Bette Begleiter, deputy director of the Maternity Care Coalition, said she cannot believe that such a vital program is at risk.
“What this means is people will have less food and babies will have less formula to drink,” she said. “That you and I are sitting here in 2013 and having to anticipate how we’re going to handle if we cut off milk from babies is really unbelievable.”
Begleiter said that many working families rely on WIC. In fact, a part-time employee at Maternity Care Coalition uses the subsidy.
Iliana DeJesus, who helps administer the coalition’s Cribs for Kids program, has 3-month-old twin boys who were born prematurely. They’ve struggled with low birth weight, anemia, jaundice and other complications. Using WIC vouchers, she buys them special formula specifically designed for premature babies. If the aid is no longer available, she doesn’t know how she’ll be able afford the expensive formula.
“It’s really going to be devastating and hard for me to purchase the formula for two babies,” she said. “It’s not just one baby. It’s two babies, which is even harder.”
DeJesus said Congress members likely can’t comprehend the impact of the shutdown on average Americans.
“How can I just be like, to my newborns, ‘We have to wait till Congress decides whether or not to continue the WIC program? You can’t eat because we have to wait for Congress,'” she said.
Rev. Douglas Greenaway, president of National WIC Association, is also urging Washington to get the government up and running again. He said WIC more than pays for itself.
“There are a whole range of studies that indicate that every dollar invested in the WIC program saves up to $4.21 in Medicaid costs for a pregnant woman participating in the program,” he said. “We have studies that indicate that WIC children have better digit memory scores, [and] are better prepared to enter school than children of a similar socioeconomic status who are not participating in the WIC program.”