COLUMBIA, SC — The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is looking for internal money to keep the Women, Infants and Children program running beyond mid-October during the federal government shutdown.
WIC is a supplemental nutrition program for low-income pregnant women, recently pregnant women, those who are breastfeeding or who have a new baby, and infants and children ages 1 to 5. Federal funding for the administrative costs of the program will cease during the federal government shutdown, said Catherine Templeton, director of DHEC.
“I vow to find a way to keep this program open,” Templeton said.
In Richland and Lexington counties alone, more than 14,000 people depend on WIC aid. And about $500,000 per week is spent on administrative costs of the program, which is spread among about 700 employees in offices in all 46 S.C. counties, Templeton said.
DHEC originally projected it had enough contingency funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep WIC running until Oct. 15 but said it was evaluating that projection daily.
DHEC has to dip in its own pockets for administrative money, since USDA has provided money only for food to keep the program going – not administrative costs, Templeton said.
“I’m confident we’ll be able to go past October 15, but again, it is not because the USDA gave us money to get there,” she said.
The National WIC Association released a statement Thursday saying that because of state WIC directors’ effective management of food costs in the fiscal year of 2013, and $125 million in contingency funds by the United States Department of Agriculture and Food Nutrition Services, state WIC agencies should be able to keep their WIC clinic doors open through the end of the month.
But Templeton is not sure how long DHEC can continue WIC. She said she would have a better idea on Friday of what the department will do to survive the shutdown.
The Governor’s Office said it is staying abreast of state agencies’ needs.
“Governor Haley will continue working with DHEC Director Catherine Templeton and all state agencies during this federal government shutdown to minimize its impact on South Carolina citizens and preserve the services that the most vulnerable and neediest among us depend on,” said Doug Mayer, spokesman for the governor.
On average, $8 million in federal funds are spent on WIC per month in South Carolina, according to DHEC. That includes nutrition assistance for recipients as well as administration. The administrative costs include keeping offices open so WIC recipients can pick up their vouchers for groceries and take classes on nutrition and healthy shopping.
“Being a new mother alone is an incredibly tough job,” without adding on the fear of not being able to buy formula or having milk and fruits and vegetables while nursing, Templeton said.
One positive in the situation is that if someone qualifies for WIC, they also qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamps benefits, which is still receiving federal funding, Templeton said. Food WIC items can be paid for using those benefits, Templeton said.
However, if a child has specific medical needs, such as a special formula, DHEC will order it if it’s very expensive, Templeton said.
“If that child is going to have that formula, they’re going to have it through the WIC program or they’re not going to have it,” she said.
To qualify for WIC someone must meet income guidelines of 185 percent of the federal poverty level. That means an annual income of $21,257 for a family of one, $28,694 for a family of two or $36,131 for a family of three, according to the DHEC website. The person also must have a nutritional need that can be helped by WIC foods and nutrition counseling, have a height and weight measurement, have a blood test for iron level and live in South Carolina.
If WIC benefits do run out during the shutdown, the Harvest Hope Food Bank would be prepared to provide for them, said Skot Garrick, communications manager for the organization.
“We would like for the public to think about donating specific types of food to us to benefit those WIC families,” he said.
Those items include baby formula, baby food and even non-WIC items such as diapers, he said.
WIC provides the basic items that sustain families, Dean Slade, director of grants and strategic planning for Eau Claire Cooperative Health Services. The north Columbia medical practice serves low income families and children, Slade said.
If the WIC vouchers aren’t available, it will become a significant shock for expectant mothers and mothers with young children, Slade said.
“It’s the children that suffer,” he said.
THE SHUTDOWN: OTHER FALLOUT
Kings Mountain cancellations. The National Park Service plans to cancel weekend events at Kings Mountain National Military Park marking the anniversary of the battle fought Oct. 7, 1780, between American and British-led forces. The shutdown furloughed all 17 employees of the S.C. park, which attracts about 500,000 visitors each year to Cherokee County. Officials had expected up to 10,000 visitors for events that were to feature re-enactors, a lantern tour of the battleground, lectures and Celtic music.
The Charlotte Observer
U.S. Attorney’s office . Forty federal employees at the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina have been furloughed. That’s about 35 percent of the workforce, according to U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles. The office employs about 114 people across the state. Nettles said most furloughs affected administrative and support staff and some lawyers working civil cases. Criminal attorneys likely will be affected if the shutdown continues, Nettles said.
Defense Department employees protest. Furloughed U.S. Defense Department employees from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort rallied Thursday outside Beaufort City Hall to rouse support from passersby. More than 1,500 Beaufort-area employees are furloughed. About 20 protested Tuesday, and more than a dozen protested Thursday. Members of the American Federation of Government Employees union urged residents to call their U.S. representatives to complain.
The (Hilton Head) Island Packet
SC Guard delays weekend drills. More than 60 of South Carolina’s Army National Guard units are delaying their normal weekend training drills. Guard spokesman Sgt. 1st Class Joe Cashion says 67 units were slated to drill this weekend. That’s a majority of the state’s 11,000 Guardsmen and women. But Guard leaders decided to postpone those drills until the third weekend in October. An exception is the 169th Fighter Wing based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, since they are preparing for an upcoming deployment.
The Associated Press
Congressman requests pay be withheld. U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson, R-S.C., requested that his pay be withheld until the government shutdown is resolved. He joined other members of Congress who earlier requested their pay be withheld or donated to charity, including Republican U.S. Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Mark Sanford and U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott.
The Associated Press
Reach Cope at 803-771-8657 or on Twitter @cassielcope.