In the coming weeks, low-income Latino parents, expectant parents and young children who rely on the WIC program to keep food on the table could see their assistance threatened, if not cut off altogether. Congress missed an opportunity to provide additional funding for WIC in temporary government funding legislation passed this week.
Now, they must immediately focus on providing WIC with the full amount needed in final funding bills in January to ensure that every eligible child and every new or prospective parent can continue to receive the critical assistance provided by WIC .
More than 2.5 million Latinos rely on WIC (formerly the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) for healthy food and other vital services, but funding for this program is now at risk.
For decades, pregnant or postpartum parents, infants, and young children who participate in WIC have experienced improvements in birth outcomes, diet quality, child development, access to health care and future educational success. Based on these proven successes, policymakers have maintained a bipartisan commitment to providing enough funding each year to ensure that no eligible family is denied WIC.
Unfortunately, this year WIC is facing a funding shortfall due to higher-than-expected food costs and participation – an important development as only half of all eligible people actually participate in WIC in recent years. This shortfall puts at risk crucial food aid for Latin American parents and young children. It is extremely important that people do not lose access to this vital program that helps pregnant participants get the nutritious foods they need to deliver healthy babies and helps ensure those babies are well-nourished at as they become young children.
Current funding bills in both the House and Senate fail to achieve this goal and would force states to turn away 600,000 eligible postpartum adults and children under age 5. Meanwhile, under the House bill, an additional 4.7 million WIC participants would also see their assistance reduced. , reducing their advantage in purchasing fruits and vegetables by 58 to 71 percent. This reduction could leave WIC participants struggling to get the essential nutrients they need to stay healthy.
With a looming deficit and no assurance that additional funds will arrive, parents and children may be put on a waiting list when they apply for WIC or when it is time to renew their participation in the program, they may instead completely lose their help. If Congress doesn’t ultimately provide this funding, the cuts will be deeper and more people will have to be turned away.
Under WIC prioritization rules, those who would be denied first are postpartum adults who are not breastfeeding and 3-year-olds who must renew their benefits at age 4. This includes more than 200,000 Latino participants who are currently pregnant and will need to renew their benefits shortly after giving birth and more than 350,000 Latinos aged 3.
In the current funding crisis, Latinos would be disproportionately placed on waiting lists. Long-standing barriers to housing, education, employment opportunities, and other forms of discrimination have led Latinos to be more likely to qualify for and seek WIC assistance and thus more likely to be at risk to lose this help now.
This looming deficit comes as many families are already struggling to make ends meet. Last year, food insecurity among families with children increased, while 20% of all Latino households reported not being able to afford enough food. WIC budget cuts would mean these families would have an even harder time affording nutritious food, and new parents and their young children could face nutritional deficiencies, or even hunger, without the support provided by WIC .
With access to vital WIC assistance at risk, Congress must ensure that WIC has sufficient funding after January to support all eligible families seeking help during the crucial first stages of life of a child.
About the Author:Zoe Neuberger
, senior policy analyst, joined the Center in May 2001. She works on nutritional assistance programs. Neuberger provides analytical and technical assistance on child nutrition programs such as WIC and school meals to policymakers and nonprofit groups at the state level. She holds a law degree from Yale University and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.