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Sequestration Could Deny Nutrition Support to Up to 750,000 At-Risk Low-Income Women and Children

March 5, 2013 at 5:55 PM

Update April 11: The paper this post is based on has been updated and can be found here.

The Office of Management and Budget has now calculated how the "sequestration" budget cuts will affect WIC -- the highly effective nutrition program that serves roughly 9 million low-income women and children -- and here's what we've learned: 575,000 to 750,000 eligible low-income women and children will be turned away by the end of the fiscal year if sequestration, which took effect on March 1, remains in place. (Our new estimates of the numbers of women and children affected differ slightly from our earlier estimates because OMB has now calculated the exact percentage of the funding cut.)

Under sequestration, WIC faces a $333 million funding cut compared to the level provided under the Continuing Resolution that's now in place -- or $692 million less than the program received in fiscal year 2012.

Cuts of that magnitude would force states -- which implement WIC under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's oversight -- to make harsh choices about how to cut their caseloads.

Under one scenario, states might cut participation rapidly in April, May, and June -- turning away all non-breastfeeding postpartum women and most children whose inadequate diets place them at nutritional risk (but who have not yet developed a medical condition), including many children who are only 1 year old. Using this approach, many state WIC programs would achieve enough savings by June that they could begin to ease eligibility restrictions and maintain the June participation level in July, August, and September. This would result in about 575,000 fewer participants nationally in the final months of the year than the average fiscal year 2012 participation level.

Alternatively, states could take a steady path of reducing the caseload by the same amount each month, turning away approximately 100,000 women and children monthly -- including all non-breastfeeding postpartum women, many 2-year-olds, and all children aged 3 and 4 at nutritional risk due to an inadequate diet. By September, the WIC caseload would be 750,000 less than the average caseload in fiscal year 2012.