Sequester Hits Home for Pa. Moms, Children

Federal funding cuts may begin to hit home for women in Pennsylvania who participate in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

The WIC program provides families with vouchers for an array of food items including whole grain and soy products, jarred infant food and infant formula, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Now, the program in Pennsylvania is losing $6 million in federal aid.

Mother of two, Melanie Bagnell, said the program’s services are vital to her family’s well-being.

“The WIC program helps all types of women out that have kids because the formula is expensive nowadays. One of the main reasons why WIC is so helpful is they try to have you and your kids be healthy. They give you healthy food to eat. Like I just got the farmers market checks and the fruits that they have are like watermelon and summertime fruits that are healthy for the kids,” she said.

Bagnell, 21, who has been participating in the program for two years, said she wouldn’t be able to afford some of her family’s food needs without the help of WIC.

WIC is one of several non-defense discretionary programs that faced mandatory funding cuts due to sequestration, the across-the-board spending cuts written into law in 2011 when Congress failed to pass a long-term deficit reduction plan. The goal of the federally funded program is to improve the health of participating pregnant women, postpartum and breastfeeding women, and infants and children.

It is expected that these cuts will affect services for approximately 6,500 Pennsylvania women and children each month.

Communications Director for the Department of Health Aimee Tysarczyk said cuts like these could threaten services the program will be able to provide for years to come.

“Pennsylvania will do all it can to maintain services at the level we had been previously providing, despite these cuts at the federal level; however, a significant drawback is that the growth of the program will be limited, which means potentially limiting access in the future to those who need the services most,” she said.

Last week Governor Corbett issued a statement calling the cuts “devastating.”

“As we look at finalizing this year’s budget, and into the future, Pennsylvania simply cannot afford to replace all the funds lost to federal sequestration. The cost to Pennsylvania’s taxpayers would be devastating,” Corbett said.

The Department of Health is can't determine yet exactly how these cuts will affect the services WIC provides and would not confirm whether the program will have to limit the amount of families it supports or scale back some of its services.

“We are still analyzing the impacts based on the little federal guidance and recommendations received to date to determine how we best move forward,” Tysarczyk said.

She says the Department will continue to work with Governor Corbett while awaiting recommendations from Washington as to how it can best operate its programs with decreased funding.

“Governor Corbett understands that WIC is a vital program to many in Pennsylvania and despite federal cuts, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Governor’s office are working together to develop solutions to try to minimize impacts so that mothers and their children who need these vital services can continue to access them,” Tysarczyk said.

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