Watchful for WIC

The U.S. Census Bureau report can be found at

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—a crucial and revered social-services program more commonly known as WIC—dodged a bullet last month when it got Congressional approval for continued funding, apparently through 2012.

We’re extremely thankful that the 60,000 Sacramento pregnant women, new mothers and children now served by WIC received a reprieve and are going to continue getting basic food assistance—such as food and bread, nutritional counseling, and breast-feeding support.

But WIC’s outlook remains far from rosy, despite its reputation as a social-service success story. Unlike food stamps and school-lunch programs, WIC remains vulnerable because it is not exempt from the automatic cuts that may result from the collapse of the deficit reduction Supercommittee. Indeed, Congress just came close last week to killing a huge swath of the program by dropping 111,000 women and children under the age of 5 from its rosters in California alone.

In the story “Poor nutrition” in last week’s SN&R, Hugh Biggar quoted a local WIC director who referred to Congress bringing “an ugly new tone” into the debate about how to support our most vulnerable citizens. Yes, we know that tone.

The current anti-government, anti-safety-net rhetoric seems especially harsh given a just-released U.S. Census Bureau report that finds unequivocally that the economic recession has made access to food more difficult than ever for working families as well as the poor. The study found that even working married couples with children, who typically are less likely to participate in programs like WIC, saw a sizeable increase in participation.

The take-home lesson? We must remain watchful. On WIC funding, Congress could easily have gone the other way.