WALLA WALLA — State officials said Wednesday participants in the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program could soon be unable to use their WIC checks if the state budget impasse doesn’t end by Sunday.
The WIC program — which offers nutrition support to low-income women and their children in the form of grocery vouchers — is among many state services at risk of stopping during a temporary government shutdown if the budget deadline isn’t met, said Department of Health officials.
About 195,000 Washington state residents, including 27,000 infants, take part in the program each month using about $472,000 worth of WIC checks for infant formula and approved food purchases.
In Walla Walla, nearly 1,000 moms and more than 60 percent of infants born here are served monthly through the county health department, spending $629,000 in vouchers in 2012 at local stores and markets, said Harvey Crowder, administrator for that department.
About 1,100 WIC clients are served separately through Family Medical Center, spending about $60,000 monthly in WIC funds, according to Terri Trisler, nutrition director for Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which oversees Family Medical Center.
That office will be open on Monday, Trisler said. “Each department is making its own decision.”
Nearly 70 percent of the families participating in local WIC programs are working families, and 65 percent live at poverty level, according to information provided by Washington state.
If the state budget fails to pass, Walla Walla County Health Department WIC staff will be furloughed, as well as a nurse for children with special health-care needs, Crowder said this morning. The heath department budget for that department is about $420,000 annually.
Nutrition clients could be affected sooner than others by a state budget shutdown as retailers who accept WIC checks are reimbursed by the state, said Timothy Church, spokesman for the state Department of Health. “Starting July 1, we will not be reimbursing any WIC vouchers, unless a government shutdown is averted.”
Vouchers issued by any WIC program in the state cannot be reimbursed until the matter is resolved, echoed Janet Charles, director of the state Office of Nutrition, adding that her staff has contacted all stores that participate in the WIC program.
State officials are urging voucher holders to use eligible WIC checks by this weekend.