Balancing The Budget On The Backs Of Babies
Congress wants to balance the budget, but at what cost?
The Republican-backed budget plan includes a $500 million budget cut to the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Additionally, the federal government approved a smaller than expected increase in the amount of money a family can make and still being able to qualify for the WIC program. Budget cuts limit how many families WIC can help.
Nutritionists, pediatrician and other critics say that this budget cut was unwise because WIC reduces health care costs over long term by providing invaluable nutritional aid.
Over the last three decades WIC has expanded its care from 88,000 people in 1974 to over 9.1 million in 2010.
Good Food For All
The care the WIC provides is two-fold.
First, it gives nutritious food to women, infants, and children who are at “high nutritional risk,” or families that include pregnant or recently pregnant women and young children that are unable to afford nutritious foods.
Additionally, WIC helps individuals with medical-based nutritional needs because of factors like anemia, pregnancy complications or being underweight. The program is focused on children under the age of five as well as women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have recently given birth.
Women and children receive WIC food benefits in the form of a food package or a check to use at specific locations, such as health departments, hospitals, 47,000 authorized retailers, schools and other facilities. Participants can also receive coupons to their local farmer’s markets through the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutritional Program.
The foods provided are high in nutrients that pregnant or nursing women and children typically need, such as foods rich in protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. WIC encourages women to breast feed, but will provide rebates for formula if requested.
45 percent of the country’s infants under 1 year have received WIC services, and WIC provided over $4.5 million in food in 2010 alone.
Education And Disaster Relief
The other facet of WIC’s program is its Nutrition Services. WIC provides nutrition and education counseling to mothers and families. The goal is to teach new mothers and children how to develop a healthy and nutritious lifestyle so they can avoid developmental and post-natal health problems. Additionally, WIC can help families find other health, welfare and social services if they need them.
Sometimes WIC can help in unexpected ways, such as when it provided aid to victims of the 2011 Alabama tornadoes. People whose homes and businesses were destroyed by the devastating storms suddenly found themselves without the means to provide for their families. This then qualified many people for WIC benefits, and the Alabama branch of WIC reached out to the victims.
What Is The Real Cost Of This Budget Cut?
University of Maryland professor of pediatrics Maureen Black and Johns Hopkins professor of public health David Paige explain that cutting services to babies is short-sighted, especially during a time when they are experiencing rapid physical and brain growth.
Nutritional deficits among babies who will not be ready to learn or earn will threaten our nation’s economic health long after the current debate subsides. As our nation’s future leaders, babies of today will be looking after us tomorrow and making decisions about our future and our country’s future. WIC ensures that growing children will be well prepared to make wise decisions.