Increased demand, fueled by high unemployment, by mothers for food from a federal program has caused Maryland officials to impose restrictions designed to eliminate 6,300 women and children from obtaining dairy products, juices and cereals.
The state stopped providing the extra foods last month for about 500 recipients and may have to make further restrictions next month, according to officials of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The 500 dropped last month were children aged 1 to 5 with poor daily diets and new mothers who are not breast-feeding. Next month the state may exclude some categories of the women and children who need the food supplements for medical reasons.
"It's a concern, because we're not losing enough people," said Ellen Englert, a fiscal specialist with the state's WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program.
The WIC program, paid for by federal money, serves 2.4 million lower income women and children nationwide, an increase of 500,000 people from a year ago. Its $1 billion budget is distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and supplements the food of infants, children younger than 5, and pregnant and nursing mothers with about $450 a year in eggs, milk, cheese, formula, juices and cereals.
Although most states, including Maryland, received more money for the program this year, increased demand and higher food costs have caused state officials who administer the programs to stop serving several categories of women and children who are eligible for help.
In Maryland, 58,433 women and children were receiving help last November, the latest month for which figures were available, an increase of 15,855 people from a year earlier. "The increased unemployment in Maryland is what we attribute it to," Englert said of the added demand.
State officials are trying to eventually trim the program to between 42,000 and 47,000 recipients, according to Steve Trageser, state WIC coordinator.
Neither Virginia nor the District has cut back its WIC program, although increased demand is causing the District to overspend its budget.
Some states, such as Louisiana and Iowa, have shut off help for all new applicants while others, including Nebraska, Georgia, Delaware and Alabama, have stopped serving all but those with direct medical needs.
The emergency jobs bill pending before Congress contains $100 million for WIC, but it is unclear when the money would be available.
Trageser said the extra money would probably not be sufficient to end Maryland's waiting list.
Although states can supplement the feeding program, few do. A bill introduced last month in the legislature by Del. James W. Campbell (D-Baltimore), asks for a governor's task force to decide whether Maryland should add to the $16.5 million it receives in federal aid for WIC.
"It's penny-wise and pound-foolish not to find the money for the feeding programs," said Jan Houbolt, director of the Maryland Food Committee, a nutrition advocacy group. "Study after study has shown $1 in WIC money saves $3 in public health costs. It's too early to show the effects of the new rules in Maryland, but we know what health problems people with poor nutrition have."
All counties in Maryland but Frederick offer the special food program to infants, pregnant and nursing women. The women are either issued weekly vouchers, redeemable for certain foods at grocery stores, or in Montgomery County, Baltimore City and six other counties, dairies deliver the food products. Frederick County is expected to join the program later this year if more money can be found, Trageser said.