Shutdown impact: WIC program funded through October

PARKERSBURG – Since the federal government shutdown more than a week ago, employees of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department have been fielding calls about the WIC program, an official said.

“We are getting at least 30 calls per day to all parts of the department from people who are desperate to know if they will continue to get WIC benefits,” said Dick Wittberg, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department.

Wittberg said people are calling all departments to speak to anyone available, whether the employee works in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office.

“Every person who has called has the same question and the answer is always the same,” Wittberg said. “The West Virginia WIC program will continue normally until further notice.”

Eight days into the federal shutdown, there is no disruption expected for the statewide program, according to Cindy Pillo, acting director for the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health’s Office of Nutrition Services.

“It really appears we have enough money in West Virginia to keep the WIC program going without interruptions through this month,” Wittberg said. “Whether there are changes to the program depends on the length of the shutdown.”

The federal nutrition program began in 1972 as a response to health concerns of low-income women, infants and children whose health was being affected by malnutrition.

The program is for pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants and children to 5-years-old and provides nutrition and breastfeeding education and counseling along with vouchers for supplemental foods.

WIC is administered nationally through the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in West Virginia operates through the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health.

WIC clinics throughout West Virginia serve approximately 50,000 people each month. In 2011, the local department’s program included 1,318 infants.

“People are afraid of losing this aid because the program provides nutritious food for growing babies and children,” Wittberg said. “It is more than understandable that they are worried.”

WIC participants from the health department’s nine counties – Calhoun, Gilmer, Jackson, Mason, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt and Wood – who have questions should contact the local office at 304-485-7374.