Nutrition program continues despite government shutdown

Nutrition program continues despite government shutdown

October 8th, 2013 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

NASHVILLE -- Despite the federal government shutdown, a federal program that provides nutritional and other assistance to some 160,000 low-income mothers and their infant or young children in Tennessee will continue to be funded through October, officials say.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given Tennessee and other states a green light to maintain the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children Program, commonly known as WIC, during the partial shutdown.

"I can tell you the Tennessee WIC program has funding to continue operating as usual through the end of October," state Health Department spokeswoman Shelley Walker said Monday in an email.

Gov. Bill Haslam's office said last Tuesday, the first day of the federal shutdown, that the program would be able to operate for seven to 10 days. Monday was the seventh day of the shutdown.

That was based on initial USDA guidance on Sept. 30.

But the Rev. Douglas Greenaway, president and CEO of the National WIC Association, said that after surveying states about their unspent funds from federal fiscal year 2013, the USDA last Wednesday and Thursday determined there was $125 million to keep the program going until month's end. States were then informed, he said.

"So as of [last] Thursday, every state in the country was open for business until the end of the month using last year's money, whatever was available," said Greenaway, whose nonprofit group advocates on behalf of some 9 million WIC mothers and children recipients as well as state, county and city service providers nationwide.

Greenaway said "state directors, including the director in Tennessee, did a yeoman's job of managing food costs in the states.

"But," Greenaway warned, "if at the end of the month, if Congress doesn't fix it, the tap will be turned off. ... The consequences are huge."

Mothers and "their children will suffer some real consequences" should they lose aid beginning Nov. 1, he said. The program provides not just nutritious food and baby formula but education for pregnant women and mothers. Potential harm could come to at-risk mothers as well as their unborn babies.

For example, that could cause some expectant mothers' to deliver low birth-weight babies with accompanying health and developmental issues that could affect the children all their lives, Greenaway said.

Abena Williams with the Hamilton County Health Department said that as of August, there was a total of 7,353 local residents using WIC. The figure includes 1,989 women and 5,364 infants and children.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.