WIC program bracing for budget cuts

By Kelly McCarthy

February 28, 2013 Updated Mar 1, 2013 at 1:07 AM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The immediate effects of missing the sequestration deadline remain unknown, but local officials say low-income families who rely on benefit programs could see fewer services in the future.

The WIC program could soon face funding cuts after March 1, unless Congress comes to a bipartisan agreement.

WIC is a program that provides food and nutritional supplements to low income women, infants and children.

Broome County's program serves approximately 4,700 families each year.

The Broome County public health director is hopeful other areas of funding, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will step in and eliminate some of the impact.

The WIC program in Broome County is preparing for a 5 percent budget cut.

The first to feel the impacts could be low-priority members, primarily postpartum mothers who use the program for nutritional supplements.

But there's also an economic impact that WIC indirectly provides to local businesses.

"This is a program that brings in for example in Broome County, three million dollars in revenue to all of the grocers that participate every year, and another 60,000 dollars in farmer's market coupons to the farmer's locally," said Public Health Director Claudia Edwards.

Families must be over the 185 percent poverty level to qualify.

The program director is hopeful that additional funding will be made available.

"I think initially USDA who funds WIC has some contingency funding to minimize the impact," Edwards said. "And also the supplemental nutrition assistance program, SNAP monies could be re-allocated to close some of the gaps. I think that's the plan initially."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday he presented a bill to the Senate that would limit sequestration and eliminate tax loopholes.

It's called the American Family Economic Protection Act of 2013, and Schumer is confident that it would avoid some of these dramatic cuts to low-income families.

There was no indication a deal to avoid sequestration was close in Congress, as of late Thursday.