What does the partial shutdown mean for people using WIC and food stamps?

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One week into a partial government shutdown and while the debate surrounding a border wall looms, what’s at stake locally?

The partial shut down means of 12 funding bills, five passed. That funded 75 percent of the government. 

This puts 95 percent of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) staff out of work, but many of the department’s services are still going on normally. 

WIC is funded through the USDA. The money is allocated to the states and then down to the local health departments.

A statement from the Tennessee Department of health says: 

“We are continuing to work with our Federal partners during the shutdown and have sufficient funding for SNAP benefits through the month of January. No determination has been made beyond then.”

Sarah Griswold, nutrition manager of the Knox County Health Department’s WIC program says they’re operating normally through January.

“They are still shopping in the grocery stores and the grocery stores are still honoring the benefits as well,” Griswold said. 

Griswold says they’re still taking and processing applications. She encourages anyone with proof of income, residency and pregnancy to come by an apply. WIC, Griswold explains, provides healthy foods such as milk, cheese, cereal, juices, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and even formula for mom’s who prefer not to breast feed. 

She says the serves are monthly from pregnancy from birth. Then the mom and child have to re-certify and the assistance will continue for at least another six months if the mother is breast feeding. The baby will continue to get WIC benefits until age five, pending a recertification each year. 

To Griswold, nutrition is important. It’s why she doesn’t want confusion about the shut down to get in the way of a healthy mother and child.

“The research shows that your pregnancies are more healthy, your deliveries are more on time with healthier babies, outcomes with incomes and their first year of life are better when you have all the appropriate nutrition in your diet, including iron and vitamin C, all the things we focus on in the WIC program.”

SNAP or ‘food stamps’ are also funded through the USDA, but the funding isn’t allocated locally. A statement from USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue says SNAP is also secure through January. 

Susan Long isn’t spending her time worrying about Congress. Long is the director of the CAC Office on Aging. She oversees many programs aimed at offering senior companionship and resources. 

Long cites a statistic that 23-30% of adults over 65 live alone, which she says puts them at risk for food insecurity. She oversees Mobile meals, a program that delivers hot meals to seniors Monday-Friday.

Many of her clients have SNAP benefits, but she says for them and many families, they don’t meet the total food need. The Office on Aging also offers lunch at its senior center Monday through Friday at a discount to help offset the hardship of food costs. 

Long’s office is funded through 2019. She says 25 percent of their funding is through federal grants, but the rest is through county and city funding, fundraising and grant writing. 

Long says there aren’t as many seniors on SNAP benefits as you might think. It’s something she’s working on because she believes every bit helps. She’s optimistic about the SNAP’s future.

“we’re very hopeful that this is going to be resolved soon because nothing is worse than thinking about people who are extremely food insecure not having anything the next day. but we really are not working on the idea that that is going to happen. we’re just, we’re working on the idea that this is going to be resolved.”

The USDA also pays for the school breakfast and lunch programs, the child and adult care feeding program and summer food service. They’re funded through February, according to USDA.

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