Falling Through the Cracks in the Deficit Debate

11/08/2011 09:02 pm ET | Updated Jan 08, 2012

Has the quest to solve the nation's deficit problem caused some in Congress to lose common sense? It would seem that way, when the nation's food and nutrition programs are threatened with potentially huge budget cuts affecting the lives of millions of vulnerable, struggling American families as Congress wrestles with deficit reduction recommendations.

Take WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, for example. If you're not familiar with WIC, you should be -- it is without a doubt one of our country's most important, impactful, and successful public health programs. It serves nearly 9 million mothers and young children monthly, including 53% of all infants and 25% of all pregnant women in the U.S.! WIC has a proven track record over more than 35 years of improving healthy pregnancies, birth outcomes, reducing infant mortality, and preparing kids ready to learn. The fact that all of this has ultimately led to savings for taxpayers, and that now this program would be eyed for drastic cuts shows just how far off course these discussions can go.

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. Investing in WIC for the sake of healthy babies and to achieve health care savings is exactly the kind of thing a rational approach to long-term deficits would be looking to focus on, not cut.

Five straight Administrations have cited WIC as an effective, cost-efficient federal program. WIC achieved the highest rating possible among federal programs from the US Office of Management and Budget's (OMB's) Program Assessment Rating Tool in 2006 and 2010. Why would anyone in Congress consider cutting such a successful preventative, public health nutrition program?

WIC is a short-term preventative public health nutrition program designed to influence lifetime nutrition and health behaviors in a targeted, high-risk population. WIC-approved foods are selected for their nutritional value to supplement the nutrients found lacking in the diets of low-income populations. As one WIC participant in Scott County, IA stated, WIC's nutrition education has, "laid the foundation for healthy eating habits for years to come."

With the nation's obesity rates continuing to rise, and two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and teens currently obese or overweight and at increased risk for over 20 major diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, now is not the time for Congress to consider funding cuts to WIC.

Should Congress fail to successfully meet its agreed upon deficit reduction target of $1.2 trillion, WIC could be hit with dramatic funding cuts resulting in more than 700,000 vulnerable mothers and young children being cut off from critical WIC nutrition services, depriving young children the opportunity of a healthy start on life, taking away purchasing power in local economies, and increasing the nation's long-term healthcare costs. Moreover, deficit reduction targets for future years could see further dramatic cuts to WIC.

And if that argument alone is not sufficiently compelling, with nearly one in four American children (22%) living in poverty, indeed over 46 million Americans living in poverty - an increase of 2.6 million people since 2009 -- the highest number on record, and with sustained high rates of unemployment and marginal employment, Americans in need should not be penalized for their circumstances or forced to make even more difficult choices because Congress forces cuts to programs for low-income families. These are our neighbors. And there is not a faith or humanist tradition in the land that does not call us to care for the least amongst us, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and work for justice.

A serious attempt to grapple with deficit reduction begins with sound investments in the health and well-being of our nation's families and communities, not with slashing vital food and nutrition programs, like WIC, that contribute to long-term health savings, workforce productivity, the nation's competitiveness in a global economy, and national security.

If you want Congress to know that essential programs must be protected for the millions of Americans living in poverty, now is the time to let them know.

The National WIC Association, NWA, is a non-profit representing the nearly 9 million mothers and young children participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children - known as WIC - and the nation's 12,200 dedicated WIC service provider agencies.

For further information contact the National WIC Association on 202/232-5492 or visit our web site at