Despite cuts, carefully managed funds means WIC will remain funded through October

The government shutdown, which started last week due to a partisan impasse over The Affordable Care Act, is affecting entities designed to help citizens in need.

While the U.S. Constitution protects the House and the Senate for shutting down, the Women, Infants and Children program has been slashed.

WIC provides groceries, as well as medical care, to mothers and their children ages 5 and younger who live in poverty.

The defunded program can stay afloat on its own for another week, and some rainy day planning has bought the program a little more time.

“WIC programs have found their footing with the help of temporary operating funds to stay open through Oct. 31,” according to a press release from the National WIC Association.

In a small victory for states’ rights, or at least states’ initiative, state WIC directors effectively managed their funds from fiscal year 2012, and as a result have a small financial cushion, said Samantha Lee, the association’s communications director.

That, coupled with $125 million in contingency funds from the United States Department of Agriculture, will keep the program afloat through the end of the month.

The WIC program in Clackamas County serves 10,435 women and children, with an economic impact of more than $4 million paid to grocery retailers through vouchers, as well as $67,664 paid to local farmers.

In Multnomah County, 30,733 women and children are served through almost $12 million paid to grocery retailers and $241,308 to local farmers.

Total food cost per woman or child served through WIC is around $45 per month.

Oregon State WIC Director Sue Woodbury said the emergency funds are a combination of surplus and contingency money.

“We’ve received just over $4 million in contingency funds,” she said. “That, combined with other funds, is good for the month of October.”

Asked whether she anticipated the shutdown with her fiscal planning, Woodbury gave a double-edged reply.

“I never try to predict what Congress is going to do; I learned that,” she said.

Woodbury said the contingency funds are allocated based on each state’s caseloads.

“We’re certainly not the biggest state in terms of need, but we aren’t the smallest either,” she said.

So what happens if the shutdown lasts into November?

“We’re continuing to work with our state and federal partners to prepare for that day,” she said. “We’ll be prepared.”

Judy Alley, executive director of Gresham-based SnowCap Community Charities, which serves residents in East Multnomah County, said she hopes it doesn’t come to that.

WIC cuts would make her clients, who are already just trying to survive, even more desperate to find food and less able to afford it. Plus the federal House, which is Republican controlled, has approved cutting $40 billion — yes, billion with a b — from the food stamp program over the next 10 years. The Democrat-led Senate has yet to vote on it

“We are straining already serving 8,000 people a month,” she said. “If it gets to be more, we will just have to ask the community to see if they can find it in their budgets to donate more.”

What strikes Alley about the possible cuts to WIC is that she sees them as targeting children.

“That makes it a lot worse,” she said. “I don’t want to see anybody hungry, but it makes a huge difference when you are young and still developing and growing. At lot of us adults can stand to cut back on our food consumption. That’s not true of your average 2-year-old.”

Donations to pay for baby food, formula, milk or food for children, such as peanut butter, may be sent to SnowCap at P.O. Box 160, Fairview, 97024. Just specify what the donation pays for in the check’s memo line. Canned food drives, for the holidays or another special occasion such as a birthday, also are a big help, Alley said.

“If we all did those little things, cumulatively it makes a huge difference,” she said.

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