Some 7 million mothers and children will lose government benefits to buy food if the federal government shuts down, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Monday.
A partial government shutdown would stop benefits for participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said at a press briefing Monday.
“If we have a shutdown,” he said, “WIC shuts down.”
“‘If we have a shutdown, WIC shuts down.’”
— Tom Vilsack
More than half of newborns in the U.S. receive food assistance from WIC for fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and even infant formula.
“That program expires, if you will, or stops immediately when the shutdown occurs,” Vilsack told reporters.
If Congress doesn’t reach an agreement to renew funding for its new fiscal year by midnight Saturday, Sept. 30, the government will partially shut down Sunday, Oct. 1, which will impact everything from federally-backed mortgages to Social Security.
The Biden administration has already instructed different agencies to review and update their shutdown plans.
A contingency fund at the Department of Agriculture could extend the WIC program for a day or two after a shutdown, and it may last for up to a week in some states, Vilsack said. But the “vast majority” of moms and infants who participate in the program would see an “immediate reduction and elimination” of their benefits, he said.
WIC is already facing a funding crisis. The National WIC Association (NWA) issued a statement last week to urge Congress to reach a deal, and backed the Biden administration’s call in late August for $1.4 billion in additional funding to deal with rising inflation and increased demand.
“Without the urgent investment of additional funds, state WIC offices could soon be forced to consider waiting lists for prospective participants — a drastic step not seen in nearly 30 years. We simply cannot cross that line,” Kate Franken, board chair of the National WIC Association, said in a statement.
The general government food assistance for low-income families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), will continue for at least the month of October, Vilsack said. But if the shutdown is longer than that, “there will be some serious consequences to SNAP,” he added.
Meals on Wheels America President and CEO Ellie Hollander, and National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP) executive director Bob Blancato, also urged Congress to avoid a shutdown.
“We are calling for a clean continuing resolution, before the start of the new federal fiscal year on Oct. 1, to prevent a devastating government shutdown,” they said in a joint statement last week. “A shutdown of any length could severely impact our nation’s most vulnerable older adults facing hunger and isolation.”