Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has raised concerns that approximately 7 million mothers and children will lose access to government benefits for purchasing food if a federal government shutdown occurs. He specifically addressed the potential impact on participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) during a recent press briefing.
The ramifications of a partial government shutdown would mean halting benefits for those enrolled in WIC. Secretary Vilsack emphasized the connection between a shutdown and the termination of WIC’s services by stating, “If we have a shutdown, WIC shuts down.”
It is significant to note that over half of newborns in the United States receive food assistance through WIC. This vital program supports families in acquiring essential items such as fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and even infant formula. When a shutdown occurs, this program expires abruptly, leaving participants without immediate access to these crucial provisions, as Secretary Vilsack informed reporters.
The urgency to resolve matters before the deadline of midnight on Saturday, September 30, lies in the fact that a government shutdown shutting down the government partially would profoundly impact various aspects of society. Areas affected range from federally-backed mortgages to Social Security.
Taking proactive measures, the Biden administration has already directed different agencies to review and update their shutdown plans. In this regard, the Department of Agriculture possesses a contingency fund that may temporarily extend the WIC program. In some instances, this extension could last up to a week; however, Secretary Vilsack stressed that the “vast majority” of participating mothers and infants would experience an immediate reduction or elimination of their benefits during a shutdown.
The potential consequences of a government shutdown on the WIC program underscore the critical need for congressional agreement regarding renewed funding before Sunday, October 1. Failure to secure this agreement would place millions of vulnerable individuals at risk of losing essential food benefits.
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WIC Faces Funding Crisis Amid Government Shutdown Threat
The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program is already grappling with a severe funding crisis. The National WIC Association (NWA) recently issued a statement calling on Congress to take immediate action. Furthermore, the association has expressed support for the Biden administration’s call for an additional $1.4 billion in funding to address rising inflation and increased demand.
Failure to secure these additional funds could have dire consequences. State WIC offices may be forced to implement waiting lists for prospective participants – a drastic measure not witnessed in almost three decades. Kate Franken, board chair of the National WIC Association, emphasizes the urgency of the situation, stating, “We simply cannot cross that line.”
While the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides government food assistance to low-income families, will continue in October, there is concern about the program’s future if the shutdown persists. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warns that “there will be serious consequences” for SNAP if the shutdown extends beyond October.
Leading organizations in the field of nutrition and senior services are also urging Congress to address the imminent threat of a shutdown. Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, and Bob Blancato, Executive Director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP), issued a joint statement emphasizing the need for a clean continuing resolution before the start of the new federal fiscal year on October 1st. They underline the potential devastating impact a shutdown could have on the nation’s most vulnerable older adults, who already face challenges such as hunger and isolation.
It is imperative that Congress takes swift action to prevent a government shutdown, ensuring uninterrupted support for vital programs like WIC and SNAP. Failure to do so would have far-reaching consequences for vulnerable populations across the country.