A commenter asks about the budget for WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children). Timely because I’d been meaning to post an update.
The President recently signed a so-called mini-bus (short for mini-omnibus) bill that includes Fiscal Year 2012 funding for WIC.
The program did better than many expected, though not so well as it could — and should — have.
The House and Senate ultimately agreed on about $6.6 billion for the program.
That’s about $150 million less than what Congress ultimately approved in the continuing resolution that’s been funding the federal government since last April.
But it’s more than either the House or the Senate had originally approved for this fiscal year — up by $570 million over the House funding level and by $36 million over the Senate level.
The administration had requested $7.4 billion, saying it would support 9.6 million low-income mothers and young children. Hard to see how the actual appropriation will support as many.
We need to recall that WIC, unlike other major federal nutrition programs, doesn’t ensure aid for everyone who’s eligible because it depends on annual appropriations like the one Congress just passed.
State agencies and Indian tribal organizations get a fixed amount, based on a formula that apportions the appropriation.
They generally pass their share, less some portion for their operations, down to local government agencies and/or nonprofits.
These local programs do the daily hands-on work. They’re the ones that screen applicants and provide the counseling and referrals that make WIC more than just a feeding program.
How many mothers and young children a local program can serve depends on a number of factors.
A big one, of course, is how much the foods and beverages covered by participants’ WIC benefits cost.
Need I say that food costs have been rising rapidly?
In a brief on the House and Senate bills, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities singles out milk and cheese because these, it says, account for about a third of WIC expenditures.
The CBPP brief suggests that the final Fiscal Year 2012 appropriation may be just about enough to keep caseloads level if WIC food costs don’t rise more than 3.8% — the increase as of last June.
If they do, then local WIC agencies will probably have to put eligible families on waiting lists, as some have in the past.
The latest food price forecast suggests this could happen.
But it’s better to have a maybe on the horizon than the certain damage the House bill would have caused — an estimated 700,000 eligible families turned away.