Despite the ongoing shutdown of the federal government, families dependent on the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) will continue to be able to access the program through October.
When the government was on the brink of shutdown on Sept. 29, agencies either wholly or partially dependent on funding from the federal government were in a moment of preparation for the inevitable furlough days and missed services or waiting to see what would happen.
The U.S. Department of Agricul-ture, which funds WIC, reallocated funds to keep WIC clinics open through October, but that wasn’t initially the case.
Lori Koch, administrative manager at the Klickitat County Health Department in White Salmon, said she was told Sept. 29 that WIC programs in Washington had sufficient funding to operate for nine days under the government shutdown.
After that, the program that provides more than 1,000 women, infants, and children in Klickitat County with checks for food and baby formula every year would have been in danger of being closed, though those decisions would have been made locally.
“Of all of our programs I think this is the most crucial. It could really hit people where it hurts,” Koch said.
According to Yvonne Barresse, office manager at Harvest Market in White Salmon, the grocery store pulls in around $14,500 in WIC checks every month. Countywide, the Klickitat County WIC program contributed $428,025 to local stores and $1,930 to farmers’ markets in 2012, according to data compiled by the Washington State Department of Health.
Almost 66 percent of all babies born in Klickitat County benefit from the WIC program compared to the 49 percent of babies that benefit from it statewide. In August alone, 643 clients received WIC checks from the Klickitat County Health Department, 392 of which used the White Salmon office and 252 used the Goldendale office, according to Koch.
“For those babies on formula this is the only source of nutrition that they have. To have that WIC program shut down and moms not be able to get that formula is a huge concern and that’s a stress that they don’t need, that none of us need,” Koch said.
Rosie Sosa, of Underwood, has used WIC over the years to pay for food and formula for her three girls ages 1, 4, and 6. Now she is also taking care of her seven-month-old nephew, Aiden, who has special needs and can only drink formula.
Without WIC, Sosa is one of many mothers who will be unsure about where to get baby formula if lawmakers do not reach a compromise and WIC offices begin closing at the end of October. At $20 per 12-ounce can of formula, Sosa says she won’t be able to afford the 11 to 14 cans of formula Aiden goes through each month.
“That would be crazy,” Sosa said. “It’d be funny to see (lawmakers) in the unemployment line. They’re not the ones losing their jobs. They don’t know what it’s like to struggle.”
Head Start, Klickitat County Senior Services already impacted by Sequestration
Meanwhile, two other social services in Klickitat County have already seen furlough days and budget cuts due to the automatic spending cuts imposed earlier this year known as the sequester.
Matthew Solomon, executive director of the Mid-Columbia Children’s Council, said Early Head Start and Head Start throughout the Gorge has not been impacted by the shutdown of the federal government yet. If it extends longer than November, Solomon said layoffs and closures would be inevitable.
“If it were to go through the end of November then we might see an impact with shut downs and all employees being laid off,” Solomon said. “Hopefully they get this worked out within 50 to 60 days.”
The concerns over the availability of Head Start and Early Head Start due to the government shutdown are the icing on the cake for an agency that experienced a $224,000 budget cut earlier this year due to sequestration.
Solomon said that led to all 130 employees taking two weeks of furlough days, starting with Early Head Start staff in July and Head Start in August. Starting this month, management, including Solomon, will be taking two weeks of unpaid leave, as well.
At the other end of the age bracket, Klickitat County Senior Services has not been impacted by the government shutdown yet either, but as with WIC and Head Start if it is an extended shutdown the ripple effect will reach local agencies, according to Sharon Carter, director of senior services.
“I’m most worried about transportation services because that is a mix of federal and state funding, but right now they are indicating that we’ll still be reimbursed if this is not prolonged,” Carter said. “But certainly if this is prolonged it will impact us.”
In 2012, senior services provided more than 20,000 trips totaling in more than 400,000 miles to medical appointment, grocery stores, work, and pharmacies. Like other agencies, Carter has also already had to deal with cuts due to sequestration.