October 5, 2013

Shutdown jeopardizes nutrition program for poor

The program serves nearly 9 million mothers and young children, providing what advocates say is vital nutrition that poor families might otherwise be unable to afford.

By Michael Rubinkam
The Associated Press

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A recipient of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, loads food into her car after leaving a center in Jackson, Miss., on Thursday. Despite a partial shutdown of the federal government, Mississippi has gotten permission to keep operating WIC through October. WIC helps pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum women, plus infants and children younger than 5.

The Associated Press

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Carlos Rodriguez kisses his 2-year-old daughter, Diana, who relies on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children while waiting for his wife outside a WIC offic, in Los Angeles.

The Associated Press

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"Ohio WIC is open for business!" proclaimed the headline on a state website.

Utah's WIC program, though, immediately closed its doors Tuesday in the wake of the government shutdown, meaning that families who hadn't already received their October vouchers were out of luck and new applications couldn't be processed. The state got $2.5 million in USDA funding on Thursday, and WIC offices throughout the state planned to reopen by noon Friday.

Charitable groups were already filling the void. A Facebook group called "The People's WIC – Utah" was launched hours after WIC offices closed, matching up families in need with those able to donate formula and other food.

In Layton, about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City, a donation drive was planned for Saturday, with organizers asking for fresh fruits and vegetables, unopened baby formula and other necessities.

Food banks, meanwhile, are bracing for a surge in requests for help if WIC runs out of money.

Linda Zimmerman, executive director of Neighbors In Need, which runs 11 food banks in Massachusetts, said her organization already provides a lot of baby formula to its clients, most of whom get WIC aid as well.

"I think they're truly nervous," Zimmerman said. "We're going to have to be doing a lot of work to make sure we can keep up with need for infant formula."

In some places, grocery stores refused to honor WIC vouchers, assuming they wouldn't get paid. Terry Bryce, director of Oklahoma's WIC program, said WIC officials called and emailed grocers to assure them the program is still funded.

In New Jersey, Patricia Jones said she is worried about losing her WIC assistance.

"You're affecting families that haven't done anything to you," said Jones, a 34-year-old mother of five. Because of the shutdown, she was turned away from the Social Security Administration office in Newark when she tried to get printouts of her children's Social Security numbers to renew her welfare and WIC benefits.

Associated Press Writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, Samantha Henry in Newark, Tim Talley in Oklahoma City, Bridget Murphy in Boston and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this story.

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