On Tuesday, September 26, the Senate introduced a bipartisan Continuing Resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown and keep government programs funded and operating until November 17. The Senate short-term CR, while an improvement to the House of Representatives budget proposal and their unsuccessful CR, still falls short in addressing the pressing needs of the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This essential program requires an additional $1.4 billion in funding to safeguard program participation and benefits.
Instead of allocating the much-needed funds, the Senate’s Continuing Resolution proposes to grant the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) greater flexibility to expedite the utilization of funds, along with the option to tap into previously unused WIC funds to sustain WIC program participation.
WIC participation is increasing – in California, there are over 160,000 additional participants now compared to pre-pandemic levels. In February 2020, there were 808,000 total participants which has grown to 972,000 total participants as of June 2023, representing a substantial 20% increase in participation since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Child participation has particularly soared, from 456,000 children in February 2020 to 587,000 children (29% increase) in June 2023.
This surge in enrollment means WIC needs additional funding to continue reaching all eligible participants. Failing to provide an additional $1.4 billion in funding could lead to turning away nearly 90,000 eligible Californians. In accordance with WIC prioritization criteria, this could result in new parents, toddlers, and preschoolers being put on waiting lists and missing out on the vital foods and services that WIC provides.
While we acknowledge and appreciate the inclusion of provisions allowing USDA to spend existing WIC funds more quickly to help protect coverage, we must emphasize that this is not the long-term solution for WIC. It is imperative for Congress to urgently identify means of securing additional funding for WIC and to fully fund WIC for the upcoming fiscal year. This is essential to ensure WIC can continue providing benefits to the 1 million Californians who rely on the program.
Send a message now to your state representatives and senators, urging them to prioritize and adequately fund WIC for the upcoming fiscal year.