Congress still needs to vote on a plan to keep a handful of government agencies operating past January 19. One such program that hangs in the balance helps millions of families put food on the table.
Whitley Hasty has been a participant in WIC — the Special Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children — for eight years. The program helps her and her two young children pay for groceries, including typical pantry staples like fresh fruits and vegetables.
"I've just become so accustomed to them being a part of our grocery lists...fruits and vegetables are so expensive now," Hasty told Spectrum News.
Hasty and her kids are among the more than 6 million new mothers, pregnant women and young children who rely on the program. However, as Congress debates the size of the new federal budget, those benefits are at risk for millions of eligible Americans.
"For the first time in a generation, there's the possibility that Congress will not provide all the resources that WIC needs to continue serving families, and we'll need to turn people away for the first time in 25 years," said Nell Menefee-Libey, a senior public policy manager at the National WIC Association.
WIC has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support. But this year, some House Republicans want to keep its funding at roughly the same level as the last budget part of a broad effort to control government spending.
Last year, the program cost $5.7 billion. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says that’s no longer enough to provide an adequate safety net and the program needs more funding.
“The longer Congress puts off fully funding WIC, the greater the risk to moms, babies and children," Vilsack asid.
The USDA says that keeping funding at current levels would mean a $1 billion shortfall, thanks to increases in food costs and in program enrollment. Under new laws making it easier for people to join the program, about 400,000 more people have signed up to reveive WIC benefits. Advocates say $6.4 billion is needed to fully fund WIC this year.
The agriculture department says if additional funding is not approved, millions of families are at risk of missing out on WIC’s critical nutrition assistance at some point this year.
"Failure is not an option here," Menefee-Libey told Spectrum News. "Stepping away from that responsibility would be a huge departure from bipartisan historical precedent."