If the partial shutdown of the federal government continues for weeks, it could lead to cutbacks in the federally funded program that helps low-income women, infants and children in Oklahoma, officials said Wednesday.
One possible result could be limiting the aid provided under the federal Women, Infants and Children program to only one or two of those groups, such as infants.
“That (WIC funding) is one of the main concerns because so many people in our state receive WIC benefits,” said Pamela Williams, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “Hopefully, this partial shutdown won’t go very long. We can hope for the best.”
Around 90,000 Oklahomans are on the WIC program, which offers nutritional assistance, such as formula, milk, cereal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and various services to expectant mothers, infants and children under 5 years old.
Around 22,700 recipients in Oklahoma are women, 22,500 are infants and 44,695 are children, according to the state health department. To receive benefits, participants must have a household income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $43,568 for a family of four.
On Tuesday, the federal government partially shut down after Congress could not reach an agreement on a stopgap measure to fund the government. The crisis arose after the U.S. House, led by Republicans, included in a continuing funding resolution provisions to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Senate Democrats stripped the delay provisions from the bill and sent it back to the House. Congressional gridlock ensued.
One group of services being cut as a result is state WIC programs.
The state receives around $63 million annually from the federal government for food services under the program, said Terry Bryce, director of the state’s WIC program.
Williams said the program has about two weeks worth of funding left. If the shutdown has not been resolved by then, the health department will reassess the situation.
Bryce said among the options would be prioritizing what groups get the remaining WIC funds.
“We feel, hopefully, this will be resolved in the next week or two weeks,” Bryce said. “Of course, at some point down the road, if we’re talking about a great length of time, at some point we will not be able to fund the program.”
One mother who receives WIC, Rikki Cuccaro of Piedmont, said she is worried about whether she would lose WIC assistance for her 4-year-old daughter Emma.
“For me personally, it’s something that helps take the (financial) burden off,” Cuccaro said. “Without the help from WIC, I probably won’t be able to keep up with as much milk as she drinks.”
Cuccaro said one of her friends who has an infant is concerned because without WIC she wouldn’t be able to afford formula for her baby.
“It’s so hard for mothers. Formula’s expensive,” Cuccaro said. “There are a lot of hungry babies that are going to have no formula. There are a lot of people who rely on formula for their babies.”
Bryce said all WIC beneficiaries should continue to keep their nutrition appointments and use their vouchers as they would normally. If there is a change in operations, he said, the state will notify beneficiaries.
About 9 million people nationwide receive WIC benefits, Bryce said.
“All the state WIC programs are looking at these next two to three weeks very carefully and may have to make some tough decisions down the road,” Bryce said. “Hopefully not.”
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is looking at ways the shutdown may affect some of the programs they administer, such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
So far, the programs have not been affected, but that could change, said DHS spokesman Mark Beutler.
“As for now, there has been no immediate impact on our programs,” Beutler said. “We are open for business and are waiting to see how long the shutdown will last.”