Food Benefits for Low-Income Families at Risk in Government Shutdown

by Ella

As the specter of a partial government shutdown looms over Congress, the White House issued a stark warning on Monday, highlighting the peril facing a program that aids millions of low-income families in affording healthy food.

The program under scrutiny is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC. The White House unveiled a state-by-state analysis, revealing that nearly 7 million individuals who rely on WIC could confront significant reductions in funding for essential food purchases, including vouchers for fresh vegetables and fruit.


WIC provides financial assistance to low-income pregnant or nursing women and children up to 5 years old.


U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking during a Monday White House briefing, underscored the potential impact of a government shutdown on WIC recipients. He stated, “Millions of those moms, babies, and young children would see a lack of nutrition assistance.”


Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, noted that some states still have unutilized WIC benefits and “could extend (WIC) for a week or so.” However, he cautioned that “the vast majority of WIC participants would see an immediate reduction and elimination of those benefits, which means the nutrition assistance that’s provided would not be available.”


According to White House estimates, Maryland alone could witness approximately 123,000 WIC recipients losing their benefits. This includes 28,417 women, 66,963 children, and 27,721 infants.

Furthermore, prospective eligible participants might encounter processing delays. Kate Franken, board chair of the National WIC Association, the non-profit advocacy arm of WIC, warned, “Without the urgent investment of additional funds, state WIC offices could soon be forced to consider waiting lists for prospective participants — a drastic step not seen in nearly 30 years.”

The impending government shutdown follows a prior agreement between President Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to raise the debt ceiling earlier this year, which set maximum spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year.

However, only one of the 12 appropriations bills required for government funding has been passed by the House. A subset of far-right Republicans is advocating for more extensive cuts, even if it necessitates a partial government shutdown.

The White House criticized House Republicans for deviating from the bipartisan budget deal that the majority had previously supported, proposing a continuing resolution (CR) that slashes funding for programs relied upon by millions of hardworking Americans.

A continuing resolution, or CR, is a common tool used to maintain government funding temporarily while Congress finalizes the 12 annual spending bills. Without a CR by the end of the fiscal year, this Saturday, a partial government shutdown will take effect, affecting programs with discretionary funding, including WIC.

WIC’s funding is classified as non-mandatory spending, meaning it will not be automatically funded in the event of a government shutdown. Its financing is contingent upon the passage of the Agriculture appropriations bill, which remains unapproved by Congress.

The White House expressed disapproval of the version of the Agriculture appropriations bill passed by the House committee, which omitted the supplemental funding requested by the Biden administration. According to the White House, “Without the Administration’s funding request, states could soon be forced to institute waiting lists for WIC, causing mothers and children to lose access to vital nutrition assistance.”

WIC funding is disseminated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service to states through a formula, with participation rates varying among states based on a range of factors.



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