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DHS news release

Feb. 6, 2004

This guest opinion is by Donalda Dodson, manager of child and family health programs in the Oregon Department of Human Services. For a photograph of Ms. Dodson, contact Bonnie Widerburg at (503) 731-4180 or by E-mail at Bonnie.L.Widerburg@state.or.us

WIC nutrition program benefits working families forced to skimp on groceries

Length: 541 words

By Donalda Dodson

A recent news story about increasing numbers of Oregonians living in poverty described the plight of a struggling young family. As low-income wage earners, they could barely pay for basic services and didn’t qualify for government assistance programs.

What they may not know is that it’s entirely possible that they--and thousands of others like them--are eligible for the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program.

That’s because WIC guidelines allow a higher income than many other programs do. For example, a family of four can make up to $2,837 a month and still qualify for WIC.

We know that families usually pay bills such as rent, utilities and car insurance first, and then use whatever is left for groceries. Too often, this means skimping on the food budget--which can have lifelong health consequences for a child. Good nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood years is critical, because 90 percent of brain growth occurs during this time.

That’s where WIC comes in. WIC has been around for 30 years and is one of the nation’s most successful government programs. It has been shown to reduce health care costs, the incidence of low birth weight and anemia. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on WIC services for prenatal women, at least $3 is saved in hospital costs for newborns.

Women and children receive approximately $44 worth of approved food items every month. This covers items high in vitamins and minerals such as milk, cheese, peanut butter, cereals high in iron and low in sugar, fruit juices high in vitamin C, along with iron-fortified infant formula for babies who are not breastfeeding.

But WIC is more than a food supplement program. It’s a full-service public health program that teaches parents about nutrition, budgeting and provides access to other health services such as immunization and low- or no-cost family planning. And, WIC offers breastfeeding support, even providing breast pumps for nursing mothers who are returning to work or school.

WIC also strengthens local economies. Last year clients spent $55 million in federal WIC dollars in 613 grocery stores around the state. The Farmers Market Program helps families with young children and local farmers. In 2000, about 24,000 qualified families used special coupons to purchase fresh produce fruits and vegetables during the growing season. More than 360 Oregon farmers in 35 local farmers markets earned over $208,000 in coupon sales.

Currently WIC serves more than 95,000 pregnant women and children under age 5 each month in clinics throughout Oregon. But we can do more, and we want working-families on a limited budget to know that WIC is here to help. If you or someone you know is in this category, please pass this information on to them.

The application process is streamlined and doesn’t require a lot of paperwork. Once qualified, families can receive WIC foods on the day of their WIC appointment. To find out more, call 1(800) SAFENET or 1 (800) 723-3638.

The WIC program is funded by the federal government and administered by the Oregon Department of Human Services through clinics in every county. Information and income guidelines are on the Web.

WIC can be an important ally for families who are struggling to provide their young children a nutritious diet with limited dollars.

Donalda Dodson manages child and family health programs in the Oregon Department of Human Services and has worked with the WIC program at the local and state levels since its inception 30 years ago.