Lacy White followed the latest news from Washington, D.C. closely over the past few weeks as Congress and the President haggled over spending measures that led to a federal government shutdown.
Not only was her husband a civilian contractor at MacDill Air Force Base who would lose his paycheck if a shutdown were to occur, but both were eight weeks into caring for an infant they’ve fostered since she was born, and were depending on the government to help pay for the baby’s needs.
“This is a double whammy for us, and it’s frustrating,” the former Land O’ Lakes resident said. “We need the checks to help with the baby’s formula, and without those, we’d have to pay out of our own pockets. But if my husband is working without pay, too, then we really have to dig to get the money.”
White receives support through WIC, the federal assistance program more formally known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Individual states like Florida administer the program using federal dollars — money that is now missing because of the federal government’s inability to keep the financial coffers open.
Communication between the government and WIC recipients has been nonexistent. Even visiting the website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the federal program, brings up a page telling visitors that “due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.”
So, White and others like her have to turn to the news.
“As far as I have read, WIC is shut down, and we will no longer be getting her formula checks,” White said of her foster baby. “No one has contacted us. No one has let us know. We have to go by word of mouth.”
But checks are continuing to be cut, even as federal dollars stop, said Deanna Krautner, a spokeswoman for Pasco County. She referred more detailed questions to the state level, who in a statement said Florida Department of Health “continues to monitor the situation in Washington, D.C., and the department will be able to continue WIC services for the foreseeable future.”
When pressed further about where those dollars are coming from, Department of Health spokeswoman Denishia Sword said the state has put together temporary operating dollars, including reallocated federal funding, USDA contingency funds and infant formula rebates.
Yet, those contingency funds won’t last long. Bruce Alexander, communications director with the USDA, told Forbes magazine that if the shutdown is not resolved before October ends, there may not be sufficient money to keep the program going.
The USDA typically receives $7 billion to run programs like WIC nationally, but the program’s contingency fund is just $125 million — enough to run the program for six days.
White’s family, luckily, has put money away for a rainy day, and only collects WIC because she has a foster baby. Yet, families that solely depend on WIC won’t have those options, and she fears children not just in the Tampa Bay area, but across the country, will suffer.
“We would typically spend $100 a month on formula, and that’s just to feed her,” White said. “There are a lot of expenses involving children, and families who live in poverty would not be able to do this on their own.”
If her family ran into problems, White said her church will be available to help. But there may be only so much charity groups can do — especially if so many families end up in need, said Thomas Mantz, chief executive of Feeding America Tampa Bay. While the organization does not necessarily provide the same services as WIC, if families have to suddenly pay for items like formula, they may have to make cuts in other areas — like food.
“Any time there are challenges in the economic environment, one of the choices people will often make is the choice of food,” Mantz said. “They have to pay a medical bill, or they have to get their car running to get to work, or they have to pay for their lights or rent. Any time those choices have to be made, these folks have to go without food, and seek food assistance elsewhere.”
Feeding America will move 40 million pounds of food in its 10-county service area this year, but that is still not enough, covering less than 50 percent of the need. And if the government shutdown continues, that will be even more assistance the group will have to be ready to supply.
Congress and the President getting back on the same page couldn’t come too soon, White said. The government needs to get back to work, and start paying for these much-needed social programs.
“My husband has to get up every day to go to work without a paycheck, yet these guys are up there still paying themselves while we are all just waiting,” White said. “Something needs to be done.”