Ahead of a funding shortfall that could leave nearly 2 million low-income children and pregnant and postpartum women throughout the United States without food assistance, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a video press conference to call for $1.4 billion in federal funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, health care referrals, and other important services to over 6.5 million low-income infants, young children, and pregnant and postpartum women nationwide.
But amid high food prices and growing need, WIC funding levels fall far short of what is needed to serve the projected caseload for the upcoming year. If Congress does not increase these funding levels, up to 2 million children and pregnant and postpartum women could be turned away from the program, upending over 25 years of bipartisan support for this critical program. Senator Gillibrand is calling for $1.4 billion to remedy this shortfall and ensure that low-income families can continue to access the critical assistance that WIC provides.
“WIC provides a lifeline for moms, babies, and young children, including 424,000 New Yorkers,” said Senator Gillibrand. “And as food prices remain high, more and more families are turning to the program for help. But WIC is facing a critical funding shortfall, and unless Congress acts, it will be forced to turn away as many as 2 million participants and applicants by September. That is an unacceptable outcome and I am determined to prevent it. I am calling for $1.4 billion for WIC in the upcoming funding bill to make sure the program can continue to provide the services millions of Americans rely on.”
As the leader of the annual WIC appropriations request, Senator Gillibrand calls on Congress for robust funding to serve the projected WIC caseload each year, even if it is above the president’s initial budget request. If Congress fails to fully fund WIC, eligible applicants and current participants, primarily postpartum women who are not breastfeeding and children, could be put on waiting lists — leaving them without the services they rely on indefinitely. States will also likely be forced to reduce outreach, limit clinic hours, and leave staff vacancies unfilled to reduce spending, which will reduce participation in the program and prevent low-income families from accessing critical WIC services.
The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to House and Senate leadership is available here or below:
Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Johnson and Minority Leader Jeffries,
We write to highlight the urgent funding shortfall facing the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that poses a significant and immediate risk to vulnerable young children and pregnant and postpartum women. We urge you to ensure any final appropriations package fully funds the WIC program for fiscal year 2024 (FY24) in order to avert disastrous participation or benefit cuts.
WIC is a vital lifeline for millions of vulnerable American families. It provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, health care referrals, and other important services to nearly 7 million low-income pregnant and postpartum participants, infants, and young children nationwide. For more than 25 years, there has been a bipartisan commitment to provide adequate funding for WIC to serve every eligible family that relies on the program and to ensure that those in need are not turned away. At the foundation of this commitment is substantial evidence of WIC’s positive impacts on the health and development of its participants.
Higher-than-expected program participation and rising food costs mean WIC funding levels proposed in both the House and Senate annual appropriations bills fall far short of what is needed for FY24. In recognition of the urgency of this shortfall, the Biden Administration has requested Congress provide $1.4 billion in emergency funding for WIC. If Congress fails to act and continues WIC’s current funding level for the rest of the fiscal year, approximately 2 million pregnant and postpartum women and young children would be turned away from the program by September 2024— an inexcusable outcome.
If Congress fails to fully fund WIC, states will soon be forced to start turning eligible families away. Eligible applicants and current participants, primarily postpartum women who are not breastfeeding and children, could be put on waiting lists— leaving them without the services they rely on indefinitely. There are more than half a million current WIC participants who are pregnant and will need to renew their benefits shortly after giving birth. Under a funding shortfall, some of these new mothers could see their benefits halted. These new moms would lose access to WIC’s nutritious foods at a time that is critical for their health and their child’s development. Such devastating outcomes would disproportionately impact people of color, who are already at higher risk for severe pregnancy-related health issues including maternal mortality.
But even if states can, to some degree, avoid waiting lists, many participants would still be harmed by a shortfall. States are expected to reduce outreach, limit clinic hours, and leave staff vacancies unfilled to reduce spending, which are measures that impact all potentially eligible people. Additionally, once word gets out that states cannot serve certain applicants, people who are more medically at-risk and would be prioritized for participation may mistakenly believe that they would be denied benefits and decide not to apply. We also know that any cuts to specific WIC services, particularly the evidence-based fruit and vegetable incentives program, would undermine the program’s effectiveness. We urge you to reject any proposal that eliminates or cuts fruit and vegetable vouchers, or any other WIC service.
America’s maternal health crisis is growing worse by the day, and further disruption to WIC in the coming months would be catastrophic. As you work to finalize a government funding package, we urge you to fully fund WIC and protect vulnerable women and children from losing access to the vital support that WIC provides. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.