WASHINGTON — Early this week, millions of women could learn whether benefits to help feed them and their young children will end on Nov. 1.
With no end in sight to the government shutdown, states face the possibility that they’ll run out of funds for the federal nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC. Federal guidelines typically require states to give 15 days’ notice to those enrolled in the program before benefits expire, and Nov. 1 could be the day funding dries up nationwide.
“This has created tremendous panic amongst WIC participants,” said the Rev. Douglas A. G. Greenaway, president and CEO of the National WIC Association, an advocacy group. “It’s a whacked situation; you can quote me on that.”
Federal funds were set to go to states for WIC benefits in the new fiscal year which started Oct. 1. But they were not distributed because of the budget stalemate in Washington. In the last fiscal year, Washington paid states and the District of Columbia nearly $6.5 billion in WIC grants, on average about $127 million per state.
A program fully funded by the federal government, WIC gets food and nutrition assistance to low-income pregnant and post-partum women, along with infants and children as old as 5 years of age. There’s a set list of the foods that can be bought through WIC, typically through benefit checks to participants.
Because of the government shutdown, those benefits are in jeopardy nationwide.
More than 8.5 million women and children were enrolled in the program as of June 2013, the most recent available federal data. More than 1.4 million of those receiving benefits lived in California and nearly 1 million were in Texas. Ten states had a quarter-million or more residents receiving WIC benefits in June.
To qualify, women or children must fall under 185 percent of the federal poverty level, generally $43,568 for a family of four.