For the first in 17 years (which qualifies as ancient history in Washington) Congressional brinksmanship over the new Affordable Care Act has led to a shutdown of the federal government (though not the ACA’s website, which is, beautifully, still operational). Instead of arguing over which political party is more at fault or lamenting the loss of the National Zoo’s “Panda Cam,” I’m going to stick to discussing the shutdown’s effect on the federal government’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides critical food and nutrition services to poor women and their children.
“No additional federal funds would be available to support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)’s clinical services, food benefits and administrative costs,” states a news release sent out by the USDA Food and Nutritional Service Agency before the shutdown (the WIC website is out of commission because of the shutdown). “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. Contingency funds will be available to help States–but even this funding would not fully mitigate a shortfall for the entire month of October.”
None of this is surprising, since national embarrassments like a federal government shutdown typically hurt our poorest citizens the worst. But what is surprising is that while at least one state–Utah–has already shut down its WIC program, Hawaii’s seems to be good through October.
“We have enough money left over to ensure that things are okay for the month of October,” Linda Chock, the WIC Services Branch Chief for Hawaii, told me this morning. “Participants can still go to the grocery store and we’re still issuing benefits to clients.”
According to Chock, during August of this year WIC served 3,554 people on Maui, 481 on Molokai and another 118 on Lanai. Though she wasn’t able to say how long of a shutdown her office could sustain before running into trouble.
“We’re going to be requesting state funds, but we’re not sure how long a process that is,” she said. “Eventually there will be a federal budget and we don’t anticipate anything drastic for the month.”
The federal government last shutdown during two sets of failed congressional/White House negotiations during 1995 and 1996. The first shutdown lasted five days in November 1995, while the second spanned nearly a month: Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996.
Photo of 1936 Surplus Commodities Program: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library/Wikimedia Commons