National WIC Association

Can Congress Really Be That Heartless?

October 29, 2013
Categories: Poverty/Food Access/Food Security WIC Funding and Operation

Looming Loss of SNAP Benefits Could Cause Uptick in WIC Participation

In two days, we will arrive at the point the WIC community has long dreaded, particularly given the growing negative consequences of sequestration on the WIC budget – the pending loss in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits (SNAP -- formerly known as Food Stamps) benefits provided to SNAP recipients under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) – and the potential uptick in WIC participation as a result of those decreased benefits.

On Monday, September 28, the Hon. Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services released an impact statement on the pending decrease in SNAP benefits provided under the temporary boost in benefits due to the economic downturn by ARRA. 

Beginning November 1, every household will be impacted with a monthly loss in benefits of between $11 for a family of one to $65 for a family of eight, assuming no other changes in income, household size, or expenses between this month and next.

This could well provide an impetus for families with young children not currently receiving WIC benefits to turn to WIC to help make up the needed difference. WIC’s budget has been significantly strained in the lead up to sequestration, under sequestration, and in the recent government shutdown. Hiring freezes, clinic consolidations, and clinic closings have become the norm challenging the ability of WIC staff to fully address client needs.  Given WIC’s own budget challenges, a sudden increase in participation could result in wait lists.

At the end of September, the House passed the Nutrition Title of the Farm Bill – The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, cutting nearly $40 billion from SNAP over ten years. That means reductions in benefits of $4 billion every single year for the next decade. The Senate’s version of the Farm Bill includes a Nutrition Title that cuts $4 billion over ten years. How sad that a cut in benefits of $4 billion over ten years becomes the high-water mark against which to protect SNAP benefits for food insecure Americans. The effect of further SNAP cuts could only lead to increased demand for WIC services.

Dramatic Income Inequality Already Plagues Us

Adding to the challenges of the economy’s slow growth, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a study earlier this year that demonstrated how the U.S. had the highest income inequality in the developed world. Indeed, the study showed that the U.S. followed only Chile, Mexico, and Turkey among all nations in the world.

In just three decades, the top 1 percent of the nation’s earners nearly doubled its slice of the American income pie, as a result of earnings and massive tax cuts, to almost 20 percent. The OECD reports that the gain is by far the greatest among developed nations.

Why, in a time of a challenged slow-growth economy and in the face of such glaring income disparities affecting the middle class and the poor, would Congress even consider reducing nutrition benefits? Only a stunning disregard for those who have been left behind, struggling to survive, can explain the House’s action.

Negotiating Whether to Take Food Off Peoples’ Tables

This week Farm Bill Conferees meet to negotiate the differences between these two dramatically different bills. The outcome will surely tell us how Congress feels about the poor.

The New York Times reports that the Republican Governor of Ohio, the Hon. John R. Kasich, recently chided his colleagues in Washington saying “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. You know what? The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A. [the depression-era Works Progress Administration].”

Hopefully, his colleagues in Washington are listening.

Call and tell your Congressional representatives that SNAP should not be cut! Use our Capitol Switchboard number: 855-435-7942

Photo credit: R.B. Boyer