WIC food program could be casualty of government shutdown
CHAMPAIGN — Thousands of Champaign County moms, infants and preschoolers in a government nutrition program stand to be affected by an extended federal government shutdown, a local public health official says.
Relying on assistance from the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program locally are 1,100 mothers, 1,100 babies and 1,800 children ages 1-5, according to the Brandon Meline, director of Maternal and Child Health at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
The WIC program is administered by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and even its website is currently unavailable due to the federal funding lapse.
States receive funding for the WIC program at varying levels. The local program was at risk of having to turn clients away if the budget standoff stretches beyond Oct. 17, but Meline said Thursday the USDA has transferred money that will keep the doors open through the end of the month.
WIC program benefits include supplemental food vouchers for eligible pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children up to age 5 to buy staples such as cheese, milk, cereal, eggs and whole-grain foods.
Meline said new moms can also obtain vouchers to buy infant formula.
“It’s a pretty substantial resource, especially for new moms who may be partially breastfeeding and needing to provide supplemental formula,” he said.
Without the program, women in the program can be linked to food pantries for help feeding themselves and their children, but it’s a challenge finding formula at food pantries even during normal times when large supplies aren’t needed, Meline said.
The WIC program doesn’t just benefit clients, Meline said. It also has an economic benefit. The vouchers redeemed at food vendors in the area are worth about $2 million a year, he said.
The WIC program at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District supplies about 15 full-time equivalent jobs, and Meline said an extended federal budget shutdown probably wouldn’t result in layoffs at the local level.