Vital nutrition assistance for nearly 120,000 Kentucky moms and kids remains at risk due to inadequate appropriations from Congress and the looming threat of a government shutdown.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides financial help with select groceries, infant formula, breastfeeding supports and health services. But the current Senate and House appropriations bills grossly underfund the program, which both helps families meet their immediate needs and has a long-proven record of improving the nutrition and health of participating families. In Kentucky, 119,884 pregnant and postpartum mothers, infants and children under five are enrolled in WIC, which provides one in three Kentucky babies with their formula.
While a potential federal government shutdown that threated WIC funding was averted earlier this month, the threat returns next month because the Continuing Resolution (CR) passed to keep the government open was only 45 days. WIC remains at risk if Congress fails to keep the federal government open then. And once that issue is resolved, WIC faces more hurdles if Congress fails to fully fund the program, which appears likely at the moment.
Funding for WIC in the 2024 Senate and House appropriation bills is $800 million below what is needed to provide benefits to all eligible participants. The current budget for WIC is $6.3 billion, but the USDA estimates $7.1 billion is needed to serve all participants at the current level. An increase in federal funding is essential for WIC because the share of eligible families who participate in the program has grown in recent years, as a result of greater investments in WIC outreach and rising food costs. In Kentucky, that means 10,400 people — primarily postpartum parents, toddlers and preschoolers — would be turned away from receiving help with groceries.
In addition, in the House appropriations bill, an estimated 81,600 Kentuckians would lose grocery money through a 56% to 70% reduction in what is known as the fruit and vegetable benefit in WIC. This benefit provides families receiving WIC with an extra $25 to $49 per participant per month specifically for fresh produce, and was increased two years ago in recognition of the importance of such nutritional support during critical life stages. The proposed funding for WIC under consideration by Congress would result in families being left with only $11 to $15 per month, depending on their participation category, to spend on produce.
Kentucky families are counting on Congress to provide our youngest children and their parents with vital resources to thrive by continuing its 25-year bipartisan commitment to fully funding WIC in the final appropriations bill. And in the immediate term, Congress needs to continue to avoid a government shutdown and ensure Kentuckians get enough to eat.
This post was updated Oct. 5.