My Letter to US Congressman David Schweikert

As a voting constituent, I write in strong opposition to the counter-productive cuts to nutrition programs included in the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, H.R. 2112. This legislation would have a devastating impact on our nation’s most vulnerable populations. I urge you and your colleagues to speak out against these cuts when this bill comes to the House floor for debate. I urge you to vote against the bill in its present form.

In particular, funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), despite an amendment approved in Committee increasing funding by $147 million, is set at $6.048 billion -- $686 million below the current Fiscal Year 2011 funding level. This would result (depending upon participation growth and food cost inflation) in 200,000 to 350,000 vulnerable, at-risk, low-income pregnant, post-partum, and breastfeeding women, infants, children losing critical nutrition assistance. I urge the House to amend the bill to fund WIC at $6.83 billion.

As passed out of Committee, the legislation also contains report language that misrepresents the reality of WIC’s preventative public health nutrition services – the core mission of the Program. By lumping the cost of these and other critical mission driven client services into program management or administrative costs, the Committee claims that WIC administrative costs are well above 40%. The reality is that in fiscal year 2010, WIC administrative costs (according to USDA) averaged 9.09%. I urge the House to strike this report language.

WIC currently serves nearly 8.9 million mothers and young children (Over 2000 in Tempe) – approximately one out of four pregnant women and roughly 50% of all infants or grandbabies born in the United States – providing nutrition education and breastfeeding support, health care and social service referrals, and nutritious monthly food packages with an average value of $41.43 in fiscal year 2010.

Almost 51% of pregnant women enroll in WIC during their first trimester of pregnancy and at certification, 25% of those pregnant women have three or more nutrition risk factors. Numerous studies have shown that pregnant women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; fewer low and very low birth-weight babies; experience fewer fetal and infant deaths; seek prenatal care earlier in pregnancy; and consume more of such key nutrients as iron, protein, calcium, and Vitamins A and C.

Preterm births cost the U.S. over $26 billion a year with the average first year medical costs of a premature/low birth-weight baby roughly $49,033 compared to $4,551 for a baby born without complications. WIC prenatal care benefits reduce the rate of low birth-weight babies by 25% and very low birth-weight babies by 44%, saving the nation vast sums in health care costs. Every dollar spent on pregnant women in WIC produces $1.92 to $4.21 in Medicaid savings for newborns and their mothers.

Infants receiving WIC are less likely to be underweight and are in better health than eligible infants not participating in WIC. Participation in WIC positively influences the nutrient intakes of children, improves immunizations rates, and dramatically reduces the risk of child abuse or neglect. WIC children at ages 1 to 2 have less dental related Medicaid costs compared to children who do not participate in WIC and four and five-year olds whose mothers participated in WIC during pregnancy have better vocabulary test scores than children whose mothers had not received WIC benefits.

For better than a decade and a half, successive Administrations and Congresses have provided bi-partisan supported funding to serve all eligible women, infants and children who apply to WIC. The proposed cut would needlessly harm hundreds of thousands of WIC families.

I urge Congress to fund WIC at $6.83 billion and continue to closely monitor WIC caseload and food cost inflation to assure sufficient funding to maintain current caseload, keep pace with rising food prices, and ensure WIC is able to serve all eligible mothers and young children who apply to the Program.

No one denies that our nation is facing serious fiscal challenges, but balancing the budget on the backs of vulnerable, at-risk, low-income populations that need essential food and nutrition assistance programs is not the way to achieve financial security. I urge you to do everything in your power to protect our nation’s struggling families from hunger and improve their nutritional health and well-being. I urge you to oppose the funding cuts to WIC and the other nutrition Programs.

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