Political pressure is mounting in the United States to reduce the federal deficit. Among federal programs facing cuts is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children known as WIC. Legislation recently approved in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives reduces WIC funding by roughly 11 per cent. Anti-hunger advocates say this means hundreds of thousands of women and children could be turned away.
Six-day-old Jayla is not happy. But her latest health checkup says she is healthy. Her mother, Jessica Proctor, brought her here to the Mary Center to be weighed, measured and generally assessed. The center provides health and social services to low-income members of its Washington community. And women and babies on the WIC program come here for regular counseling and care.
“I got WIC when I was like three months pregnant. Before that I was eating like fried chicken. WIC helped me with like a diet, you know, put fruits and vegetables in my everyday meals. Before that I did not have none of that … no milk, no cheese, none of the good stuff you are suppose to have to give your baby nutrition,” Proctor said.
Mothers on WIC are quite literally taught what and how to eat while pregnant, so that they transmit important nutrients to their unborn children. And once those babies are born, counselors instruct breastfeeding mothers on feeding themselves and their babies. WIC mothers also receive vouchers to buy healthy foods, and only healthy foods.
“Milk, cereal, fruits and veggies [vegetables], beans, juice and bread. Sometimes people don’t have the money to buy that kind of food,” said Lorena Jurado, a mother on WIC.
“They give you helpful tips and an orientation on how to do this with your child and how to be better for your child,” said Delmy Harnandez, another mother on WIC.
But with many congressional leaders focused on fiscal restraint, the WIC program is under fire.
“At this time with unemployment soaring and with a lot of money being allocated for defense for the various wars we are engaged in, money was cut from the WIC Program,” said Ekery Ekendum, Mary Center administrator.
Reporter Pete Kasperowicz covered the recent debate in the House of Representatives, where a bill cutting WIC funding passed. He says Republicans seemed pained.
“They know that this looks funny. You don’t want to cut a program called Women, Infants and Children. It is right out of the Democrats’ playbook, you know, “How evil can you get?” But they said over and over, ‘It’s funded more than we think we need and we have options to go higher,’” Kasperowicz said.
Republicans say that fewer people are using WIC, so less funding should be needed. "We are headed toward economic collapse as a nation if we don't stop spending money that we don't have," said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Georgia.
The bill's passage in the House does not mean the cuts will happen. The Senate must pass its own bill appropriating funds for WIC. Analysts say this is unlikely until the impending debate over raising the debt ceiling has closed.
But anti-hunger advocates are still appalled at the House's actions. They say feeding babies so they grow into healthy adults is preventative and cost-effective policy that simply makes good sense.
Earlier this month, the U.S.-based anti-hunger group Bread for the World convened hundreds of activists around the cause of improving the nutrition of pregnant women and babies worldwide.
And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks often on this issue. “The Obama administration has put women and children at the heart of our development efforts including our global health initiative…,” she said.
But those who administer the WIC program in the United States are already thinking about how to do more with less. Jessica Proctor was shocked at hearing about possible funding cuts. “I just hope they don't cut WIC. There’s going to be a lot of hurt mothers out here, and babies,” Proctor said.
We have originally mistakenly named Bread for the World as "Bread for Life"