Debt Ceiling’s Trigger Could Cut Assistance To Nutritional Program For Lower Income Women And Children

The trigger in the debt ceiling deal could also affect “a popular nutrition program for low-income women and young children,” Congressional Quarterly’s Ellyn Ferguson is reporting. Lawmakers had initially considered shielding the program known as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children or (WIC) — which provides assistance to “an estimated 9 million pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children under age 5” — but that provision was not included in the final deal, meaning that it could be vulnerable to sequestration if the 12-memeber Congressional super committee does not agree on a spending plan:

The caps still leave wiggle room to protect some programs while reducing funding for others, said Jim Horney of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It’s not singled out,” said Horney, the center’s federal fiscal policy vice president. “Appropriators could choose to do full funding of WIC although everything will be under pressure.”

WIC, which is funded at $6.7 billion for fiscal 2011, could be more directly affected by debt ceiling provisions that call for sequestration of appropriated program funds in fiscal 2013. Horney said the debt-ceiling negotiations included discussion of an exemption for WIC similar to one it had under a 1990 budget act (PL 101-508), but it was not included in the final version.

As Pat Garofalo has reported, WIC has been the target of various cost cutting schemes, from a bipartisan agreement to avoid government shutdown in April to the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The measure cuts WIC by $733 million and, if signed into law, it would effectively kick between 300,000 and 450,000 women and young children out of the program.

Economists estimate that every $1 invested in WIC saves between $1.77 and $3.13 in health care costs in the first 60 days after an infant’s birth by reducing the instance of low-birth-weight babies and improving child immunization rates. In fact, it is estimated that the program has saved more than 200,000 babies from dying at birth.