The Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children, popularly known as WIC, was one program that came out almost unscathed from the whacks that other food programs suffered in the budget battles last year.
Why? Because numerous studies have shown WIC to be not only workable, but also cost effective. Congress has noted findings of a Harvard study, for example, which showed that WIC participation saves $3 in later medical expenditures for each dollar spent. Yet, the administration has repeatedly tried to cut the funding level for this valuable program, both last year and this year.
At a recent meeting with consumer groups, Agriculture Secretary John R. Block was asked why this program was once again slated for a cutback. He said WIC is highly "unfair" because it is targeted on a specific group and specific areas. Given that the program is not accessible to all eligible women, infants and children and that it is unrealistic to extend it to all needy persons because of budgetary restraints, the secretary's solution is to end federal support for WIC and turn it over to the states in a block grant.
But a block grant promotes more inequity, not less. Under the block grant concept, each state can determine which programs it will keep and which it will eliminate, leaving gaps in program benefits from state to state.
WIC works so well precisely because it is designed to reach an especially vulnerable group --pregnant women, newborns and young children--made up of people who are both poor and certified to be at nutritional risk.
As for the charge that WIC is targeted on specific areas, the Agriculture Department's own records on WIC, show it is now available in 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as on numerous Indian reservations. If everyone who is eligible does not have access to the program, it is because of inadequate funding rather than program design.
Assistant Agriculture Secretary Mary Jarrett says WIC is duplicative and wasteful since many persons on WIC also receive benefits under other federal food programs, such as food stamps. To be eligible for WIC, a woman, an infant or a child must not only be poor, but must also be certified as mutritionally deficient. If other food programs were meeting the nutritional needs of those in this particularly vulnerable group, they would not be eligible for WIC.
In any aid program, federal or otherwise, every intended recipient does not receive benefits. To call an effective program unfair for this reason and, then use this argument to cut back on funding rather than trying to expand its participation level is Catch-22 logic. The secretary, in essence, is saying that if everyone cannot benefit equally, then everyone should suffer equally.