Advocates: WIC will have to ration benefits if budget not increased
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is facing a funding shortfall in Ohio and nationwide, even without the threat of a government shutdown.
Advocates said nationally, increased participation in WIC along with food price inflation have eaten away at the allotted budget. U.S. Department of Agriculture data from August show WIC enrollments in Ohio were up 12% over last year. While inflation has slowed, food prices are still up nearly 4% over 2022.
Joree Novotny, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said simply continuing to fund the program at current levels is inadequate.
"Anything that is passed as a continuing resolution, or that is appropriated at current funding levels, is functionally a cut to the program, especially for items like food and other basic needs, the costs are higher," Novotny explained. "Even if caseloads remained the same. And we know that is not the case."
She pointed out every dollar spent by program participants goes directly into the local economy, supporting the food system and associated jobs.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the WIC program will need nearly $1 billion more than the president's budget request, and around $1.7 billion more than has been proposed in the U.S. House. It says the proposed funding levels would leave more than 600,000 eligible women and children outside the program.
Food price inflation has impacted food insecurity dramatically, with Novotny reporting Ohio food banks are seeing greater demand now than at the height of the pandemic. She noted the food bank system was not intended to serve as a grocery store.
"Our food bank network was built to respond to episodic crises, to be there when a disaster strikes, to be there when a job loss or an illness happens," Novotny stressed. "Not to be a front line grocery store for a large percentage of our population."
She added in late 2021, Ohio food banks were serving 2 million people per quarter, but over the last two quarters this year, the number grew to 3.8 million.
Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.
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