Op-ed: Congress Must Appropriate WIC Funding for Millions of Families | Civil Eats

Op-ed: My Family Struggled With Hunger. If Congress Won’t Fully Fund WIC, Millions More Will, Too

WIC’s work has never been more valuable—or more necessary, writes Representative Gwen Moore. Congress should honor its longstanding commitment to the program.

a parent feeds a small baby because they receive WIC funding and Congress has passed a funding bill in the past

March 4, 2024 update: Congress today passed a bill that would add $1 billion in funding for WIC, fully funding the program and expanding its budget.

Growing up, I was an A student, president of the Student Council, and poor. However, benefits my mother received made me ineligible for free lunch. As a result, I often went without breakfast or lunch entirely. I would find myself eating leftovers from other people’s plates.

One day, I decided I wasn’t going to be hungry anymore. I got in line in the cafeteria and filled my tray with food. I then made a defiant move. I got to the cash register and said, “I am going to eat today.” No one stopped me. That day, I ate lunch, and from then on, I never had to skip lunch again for lack of money. The cafeteria school staff left me alone. It was my own hunger protest.

But not everyone has that choice. And many of today’s families are struggling to get enough food in school and out. That is why, as a member of Congress, I work passionately to fight food insecurity. At the center of that work is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

For more than 6 million Americans, WIC makes a way out of no way, filling nutritional gaps that allow families to access the healthy foods they need but can’t afford. All these benefits make WIC an important bridge in closing the food insecurity gap.

Now, 2 million women and children are in danger of losing access to this key program. Last month, despite the fact that WIC demand has been expanding rapidly, Congress passed a resolution to keep the government running without adding to the program’s funding.

As a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, I know first-hand how important healthy foods are for a baby’s development. Children can only fully thrive when they have the proper nutrition to grow and reach their full potential. That means access to healthy whole grains, proteins like nutrient-rich formula and dairy, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

I’ve served as a community intervenor, sharing information with pregnant women on nutrition, nursing, and WIC. I’ve seen first-hand how the program’s food packages are rooted in sound nutrition science. And the benefits are well-documented: Children whose families use WIC can better absorb key nutrients, have higher rates of immunizations and consistent medical care, and have healthier growth rates.

WIC’s breastfeeding services also provide mothers with experts on breastfeeding; they have increased the number of breast-fed children in the U.S., a trend that has numerous benefits. Pregnant mothers who participate in WIC also have lower rates of pre-eclampsia and healthier birth weights. This matters because, with one of the highest maternal mortality rates among wealthy nations, the U.S. must use every resource we have to protect the lives of mothers and their babies.

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On top of those benefits, WIC is also a key economic driver. When a family makes a WIC purchase, it infuses cash into our local communities and into local grocery stores. These purchases are happening all over the country, in urban, rural, and suburban areas, strengthening local economies, and supporting our farmers.

Since its creation in 1974, WIC has served as a lifeline for millions of children and families. And in the past few decades, Congress has worked in a bipartisan way to properly fund this program.

After years of declining participation, we have seen recent increases in WIC enrollment over the last two years. This means more food insecure pregnant women, infants, and children are being connected to the services and nutrition assistance they need. At the same time, inflation is squeezing individual families every time they go to the grocery store, as well as our food programs. WIC is absorbing these higher food costs, so that inflation doesn’t lower the quality or quantity of benefits for mothers and their children.

All these increased costs must be met with increased resources. We need to pass appropriations legislation that makes WIC whole and addresses an estimated $1 billion funding shortage.

Let me be clear: without this additional funding, women, children, and babies will go hungry. It is time for Congress to continue its longstanding commitment to providing the full funding that WIC needs. Otherwise, we will only deepen the burden on state and local programs, which could be forced to add waiting lists and prioritize some at-risk populations over others. In the worst-case scenario, families could see their benefits paused or cut entirely.

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I’m not alone in pushing for this funding. Other congressional champions, including Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), Representative Jahana Hayes (D-Connecticut), Representative Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), and Representative Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico), understand this and they are working to help more of our colleagues see the light.

As a Congress, we must come together, in a bipartisan way, to ensure that WIC can continue to do the life-saving work of feeding millions of women and children across the country. The work the program does have never been or more valuable—or more necessary.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore has represented Wisconsin's 4th District since 2004. She is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, the oldest committee in the United States Congress and has jurisdiction over the Social Security system, Medicare, the Foster Care System, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Unemployment Insurance, and all taxation, tariffs, and revenue-raising measures. She serves on the Tax, Oversight, and Work and Welfare Subcommittees. She also serves on the Joint Economic Committee. Read more >

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  1. Frances Sturgess
    Yay team
    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cures
    Our future depends on our children. As a clinical nutritionist /Registered Dietitian in prenatal programs and a counselor in the WIC program Ive seen and promoted what it can do

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