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WIC support for moms, babies threatened during shutdown

Low-income mothers, pregnant women, babies and young children who rely on government assistance to purchase food could see their help cut off now that the government is shut down.

Nearly 9 million mothers and children receive benefits under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The federal program gives grants to states for supplemental food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and to infants and children up to age five who are nutritionally at risk. The program serves 53 percent of all infants born in the U.S.

Since the government partially shut down at Midnight on Oct. 1, however, its funding has dried out. The Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the program, noted in a memo last week without congressional approval of new spending, there won't be any funding available for WIC's clinical services, food benefits or administrative costs.

"States may have some funds available from infant formula rebates or other sources, including spend forward authority, to continue operations for a week or so, but States would likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period," the memo said. "Contingency funds will be available to help States - but even this funding would not fully mitigate a shortfall for the entire month of October."

Some federal operations were halted Tuesday because congressional Republicans have insisted that any new spending bill include provisions to roll back or delay Obamacare -- something Democrats refuse to agree to.

Other federal food assistance programs won't be impacted by the shutdown.

For instance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- commonly known as the food stamp program -- is still operating with funding that was appropriated through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (often referred to as the stimulus). SNAP also has about $2 billion in contingency funding that Congress approved this year but that doesn't expire until the end of the 2014 fiscal year.

The Child Nutrition (CN) Programs -- including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult

Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk -- are also still operating. The USDA explains that meal providers are reimbursed 30 days after the end of the service month, and there is some limited carryover funding available at this point. Once Congress gets its act together, and reauthorizes government spending, the USDA expects to get funding to cover the cost of October expenses.

Some Democrats are using the threat against low-income mothers and children to lambast Republicans in the ongoing budget stalemate. "Make no mistake, a #GOPshutdown would jeopardize WIC benefits for pregnant women, infants and young children," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Twitter. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., similarly wrote, "#GOPshutdown jeopardizes WIC benefits 4 pregnant wmn, infants, young kids. Will result in higher HC $."

The issue has become a flashpoint on Twitter, where some people have urged others leave gift cards at the grocery store for WIC recipients and others have suggestedleaving baby formula at food pantries.

WIC in 2012 had a budget of about $6.8 billion -- about $200 million less than its 2012 operating budget, thanks to cuts from Congress, including the sequestration cuts.

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