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Congress must fully fund nutrition program to help Colorado families thrive


by Greta Allen, Colorado Newsline
January 30, 2024

The health and well-being of approximately 25,000 Colorado families are in jeopardy if Congress does not sufficiently fund a national program for infants, children, and pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum adults.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children — known as WIC — provides food assistance, along with other health and nutrition supports, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as well as for children under the age of 5 — some of the most important years for brain development and healthy growth. It’s geared towards low-income families who may struggle to access adequate nutrition and health care due to high costs of living, low wages, inflation and other life storms. Food benefits can be used at WIC-authorized retailers to purchase infant formula, baby food, fruits, vegetables, and other approved, nutritious foods.

Right now, the U.S. Senate and House appropriations bills do not fully fund this program, meaning there could be a $1 billion shortfall this year. The current continuing resolution that provides funding for WIC is scheduled to expire on March 1.

Stagnant program funding would require states to reduce WIC participation by about 2 million nationwide — including 25,000 young children and new or expecting parents in Colorado — by September, with disproportionate impacts on Black and Latine families, according to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities. Since people of color face greater economic hardship due to long-standing barriers to housing, education and employment opportunities, in addition to other forms of discrimination, Black and Latine families may be more likely to qualify for and seek assistance from WIC than those of other races or ethnicities.

The Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger joins Feeding Colorado, Hunger Free Colorado, and Nourish Colorado, along with other advocates across the state and nation, to call on Colorado’s congressional delegation to protect WIC funding in the 2024 federal budget, especially with rising participation and food costs. Inadequate funding would result in benefit reductions as well as waitlists for eligible families for the first time in 25 years.

Since the first WIC clinic opened 50 years ago in 1974, the national program has become a lifeline during the prenatal, birth, early childhood and postpartum periods for many families across Colorado and the nation. The USDA reports that more than half of all infants in the United States benefit from WIC.

As a registered dietitian and former WIC supervisor, I know firsthand why WIC is an investment in our local communities and future generations. Access to nutrition and nourishment not only supports healthy development and improves educational outcomes but also reduces the burden on health care and other assistance programs in the long run. Without increased funding, too many families will be turned away and miss out on targeted nutrition interventions and vital health care — and need to rely upon already overburdened food pantries and food banks.

In Colorado, an average of 92,135 families participated in WIC each month during 2023, with more than $35 million of the program’s funds reinvested back into Colorado communities last year. Studies have shown that every dollar spent on WIC results in significant savings in health care costs by reducing the risk of adverse birth outcomes and improving maternal and child health. And these benefits are even more far-reaching by positively impacting lifelong well-being, community health and national prosperity.

Congress must uphold its bipartisan commitment to supporting the health and well-being of our children, along with new and expecting parents, by fully funding WIC. The program also needs a permanent increase in funding to the fruit and vegetable benefit so that families can access both sufficient quantity and quality of food.

Every child deserves a healthy start in life, but limited access to WIC wouldn’t allow that. Don’t we want to create a brighter, well-fed future for all children and adults who live in Colorado?

This story is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.