Late last night the federal government shut down its “nonessential” services as Congressional Republicans continued their attempt to undermine the health care reform law President Obama signed in 2010. The default mode on Capitol Hill these days tends toward paralysis and partisan strife, so pretty much everyone saw this coming.
The worst hit, at first glance, seem to be tourists — attractions under the purview of the National Park Service have closed for the time being — and federal employees who will have to stay home from work while their livelihoods are used as a political football, again. The Washington, D.C. city government, long maligned as incompetent, took forward-thinking steps to insulate itself from federal-level dysfunction. Most social assistance programs are safe for now.
But there is one program in serious danger: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides funds for healthy food, counseling and health care referrals to pregnant women, mothers and children under the age of five. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, research shows that the program is proven to ensure better health, nutrition and care services: “It is widely regarded as one of the most effective of all social programs.”
Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, released a memo summarizing the effects of a federal shutdown on food service programs. School lunches and food stamps are in the clear, at least through October. Not so for WIC:
No additional federal funds would be available to support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)’s clinical services, food benefits and administrative costs. States may have some funds available from infant formula rebates or other sources, including spend forward authority, to continue operations for a week or so, but States would likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period. Contingency funds will be available to help States – but even this funding would not fully mitigate a shortfall for the entire month of October.
Currently the USDA website reads, “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.” The WIC program’s website is not functioning at all.