Government cuts leave WIC recipients wondering if they'll have food

PORTLAND, Ore. - Low-income families have plenty on their plates.

If the government shutdown continues, they might also have to worry about what's not on their plates.

Though there are emergency funds set aside to continue operations in the near term, programs like Women, Infants and Children depend on federal funds and could soon find themselves out of money.

That could spell trouble for JusPhrez Peters and her 3-year-old daughter, Cherish.

"It's meant a lot to me personally," Peters said. "I think that it has helped me to eat better, and not only that but to know what kinds of foods are healthy for me and my child."

More than half of the children in WIC's target age - 5 and under - use the program in Oregon.

The program provides vouchers for nutritious food, as well as regular medical checkups and education for new parents.

Oregon WIC director Sue Woodbury said there has been some confusion not only among the program's beneficiaries, but from grocery stores that aren't sure whether they can still accept vouchers.

She said it's business as usual for the program, at least for the time being.

"We want the grocery stores, the pharmacies, the farmers to know the program is still operating - they should accept those checks," she said.

"The funding for October - there is certainty around that. We know we have funds for October, so we are doing planning now that takes us beyond that."

Still, the shutdown has left many families worried about what's around the corner.

A non-profit agency called 211 fields calls from people who want information about and referrals for social services.

Lead community information specialist Raina Daniels said the agency has received quite a few anxious calls since the shutdown.

"Generally it seems like there's a lot of anxiety right now as to whether these programs that they rely on to eat, to be housed, are going to be available to their families in the coming weeks," she said.

"It definitely is increasing people's stress in the calls that we're taking. People are concerned about their basic needs, and the government shutdown hypothetically could affect any of those basic needs."

Peters said life will quickly get more difficult for her if WIC goes on hiatus.

"As far as us, if we didn't have WIC, we'd be at a food bank," she said. "We'd be at an emergency food bank or at a church looking to get the same things we get through WIC."