Federal shutdown puts women and children most at risk of losing nutrition

Capital News Service

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is the first food supplement program that would lose funding in Maryland if the federal government shutdown is prolonged, child anti-hunger advocates announced Tuesday.

“The [government] shutdown leaves a new mom dependent on formula for her newborn unsure and confused about whether that support will continue; It leaves the dad just starting nutrition education classes to stretch his already limited budget effectively on his own in a time when future cuts are certain,” said Molly McCloskey, the director of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign in Maryland during a press conference with other members of the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger.

The Women, Infants and Children program is a free federally funded program that provides things like food, nutrition education, infant formula and health care referrals for low-income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum, and for infants and children up to age five.

To qualify for assistance in Maryland, participants must be a state resident, at risk for malnutrition and meet the household income requirement.

“At the moment the WIC program right now remains uninterrupted,” said Thomas Kim, deputy secretary of operations for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The program is operating with federal reserves, but depending on the rate at which participants redeem their checks, funding is only expected to last about two weeks, Kim said.

“If the shutdown continues for beyond two weeks, then the state will be assessing its ability to continue the program,” Kim said.

Other federally funded programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—known as food stamps, the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program also face defunding if the government does not reopen soon.

“If you use your [electronic benefits] card to access your SNAP benefits today, it will work, but not for long if the shutdown remains in effects for a long time. If you utilize WIC then it can still help you feed yourself and your children and infants, but not for long if the shutdown remains in effect. If your kids eat lunch or breakfast at school, don’t worry, they can still eat at school, but not for long if the shutdown remains in effect,” Executive Director of Maryland Hunger Solutions Michael Wilson said.

McCloskey said the eight organizations that joined together Tuesday “stand with the most vulnerable citizens of our state.” Members pleaded for the public to tell Congress to end the federal shutdown by calling 1-877-752-6479.

Recipients of federal food assistance programs aren’t the only ones who should worry though, said Becky Wagner, the executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth.

“The Republicans in D.C. need to understand that they are as vulnerable as these people,” Wagner said. “But if you’re a hungry person, you’re already struggling.”