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Shutdown shuts off food for thousands of women, infants and children

New voucher checks not being issued due to federal stalemate

Women, children and infants that count on a federal program for staple food items are being denied payments due to the government shutdown.

As of today, agencies that coordinate WIC - a supplemental nutrition program for babies, children under the age of 5, pregnant women, breastfeeding women and women who have had a baby in the last 6 months - will not issue new voucher checks that clients use at the store to pay for bread, milk, eggs, cereal, baby formula and other items.

"Most people understand, but some are surprised," Kim Ott, the WIC coordinator for Linn County, said of denying clients checks today. "We have a few people who say, 'How am I going to feed my baby?"

WIC recipients are caught in the middle of a standoff over a federal health care law. When gridlocked Congress failed to pass a spending bill by midnight Monday, government shutdown for the first time in 17 years.

Locally, it's meant closure of parks such as Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, and Coralville Lake day-use parks, campgrounds and boat ramps. Social Security field offices have limited services.

Donald Tyne, director of Linn County Veteran Affairs, said it's business as usual for him locally, but when he called Fort McCoy Retirement Services, an office in Wisconsin which provides services for retirement benefits and payments for veterans, that office was closed due to the shutdown.

The WIC program appears to be taking the brunt of the shutdown, at least for now, and for people such as Sarah Regan, 33, of Cedar Rapids, it means finding an alternative or going without.

Regan, who just delivered her baby Kendyl two weeks ago, is on unpaid maternity leave, and has been counting on WIC for core items like milk, bread, eggs and cheese through her pregnancy.

When she showed up at the office for her appointment on Tuesday, she was surprised the government shutdown cost her her WIC payment.

"I knew there was a shutdown, but I did not realize it would affect everyone on a personal level," Regan said. "We will just have to find another way to supplement our food, or just have to go without until it comes through. There's no fall back. It's just wait and see when this ends."

If the government shutdown lasts throughout October, Regan and roughly 66,000 other Iowa WIC recipients will not get coupons this month, said Jill Lange, statewide director of the WIC program for Iowa. On average checks are worth $55 a month for specific food items, and three-months at a time are dispersed.

Linn County served 4,618 people in September, and the Johnson County WIC office, which also serves Cedar, Iowa and Washington Counties, served 2,759 people.

Recipients aren't totally out of luck. While WIC offices can't issue new coupons, WIC coupons issued prior to Tuesday are still valid at participating grocery stores and other retailers that normally accept them. There is also a limited supply of formula through agencies that manage WIC locally.

WIC clients are being encouraged to keep their appointments, which also offers educational information, even though they will not get their checks during the shutdown.

Doug Beardsley, Johnson County Public Health director, said as soon as the government shutdown is resolved, clients who should have received coupons will get them by mail. For infants in families with an acute need, we have a limited supply of formula that we can give them which would then be deducted from their coupon package.

The WIC staffers' jobs are also at risk.

Contingency funding will cover operational costs for the next 10 days, but then 13 workers in Linn County and 15 in Johnson County will be out of work if the shutdown is not resolved."It's a little bit somber, but we continue to do our jobs," Ott said.

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