By Jeanie Donovan
If you’ve been following the news on the sequestration, you may know that the SNAP program is exempt from the automatic spending cuts that took effect on March 1, 2013. You may not know, however, that a similarly critical nutrition program, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program is not exempt. In fact, the Office of Budget and Management estimates that WIC funding will be reduced by 5%, or $333 million, if the sequestration cut to the program is not reversed in continuing resolutions later this month.
Currently, the WIC program operates throughout the state of Texas via 522 regional clinics and in 2011 served over 700,000 pregnant women, infants, and children under age 5. All of the funding for the program comes from the federal government and last year Texas received $561 million for WIC. This money supports a variety of services including breastfeeding assistance, immunizations, counseling, and a prescription food plan tailored to the specific nutritional needs of pregnant and nursing mothers, infants, and young children. WIC is a comprehensive health program proven to result in significant improvements in health outcomes of pregnant mothers and our smallest and newest Texans alike. These positive outcomes save many times over the original investment through reduced spending in other, more expensive, federal programs.
Last year, the National WIC Association estimated the 81,000 participants would be cut from the program in Texas and that small, rural WIC clinics would be at risk of closure if sequestration took effect. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), however, is confident that state WIC caseloads will not have to be cut this year as a result of sequestration. The DSHS WIC office reported making administrative cutbacks, including scaling back outreach and media campaigns and putting new projects on hold in order to maintain benefit levels and caseloads. However, if cuts made by sequestration are not reversed for the next fiscal year, the WIC program in Texas will have to scale back the number of pregnant women, infants, and children it serves.
The sequestration threatens many programs and services that are important to our state. This particular program, however, is especially vulnerable to cuts because it has already been squeezed by previous federal budget cuts. Protecting WIC and the population it serves is just one of the countless reasons that federal lawmakers must revise the arbitrary cuts made by the March 1 sequestration.