Op-ed: Families like mine are counting on Congress to fully fund WIC

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By Zakela Mickens

December 12, 2023

A Florida mom of four explains the critical role that the Women, Infants, and Children program – more commonly known as WIC – has played in her family’s life.

As a mom of four, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children – more commonly known as WIC – has played a critical role in my life and my children’s lives. And as a WIC peer counselor who supports other moms enrolled in the program, I know how essential WIC is for my wider community.

So, I was saddened when Congress didn’t address WIC’s funding emergency in its latest measure to avoid a government shutdown in November. Righting that wrong must be a top priority for lawmakers in the new year.

WIC provides healthy food, nutrition education, breastfeeding support and infant formula to more than 7 million families across the country, including more than 400,000 here in Florida. My family is one of them. As the cost of food and other essentials has soared, so has the demand for WIC, but Congress has not fully funded the program. As a result, WIC is facing a dangerous shortfall and could be forced to cut benefits or institute waitlists early next year.

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That would be devastating for families like mine. WIC is a lifeline for us. Like many families, the rising cost of food has hit us hard. The healthy options WIC provides are an enormous help. I’m especially grateful that WIC provides funds we can use at farmers markets, to access fresh foods and support our local economy.

But WIC provides much more than food. I’m also incredibly thankful for the program’s breastfeeding support. As a new mom, I faced a lot of challenges with breastfeeding, ranging from oversupply to cracked and sore nipples because of my baby’s tongue and lip tie. The lactation specialists at WIC were amazing. The guidance, encouragement and practical education they provided has been critical to helping me persist and meet my breastfeeding goals.

In fact, I am so passionate about that support that for a long time, I’ve worked as a WIC peer counselor. I love the work. As a peer counselor, I help connect women to local services, family support programs and lactation specialists. Outside of my job, I also assist moms through my own breastfeeding peer support group. I love being able to offer help to so many amazing moms with experiences similar to mine.

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Of course, all of our stories are different. Over the years, some moms I’ve supported are working full-time, but their wages don’t cover the rising cost of essentials. Others were pushed out of the workforce because they couldn’t find or afford childcare or because they were caring for aging parents. Some moms needed WIC’s food benefits to support their postpartum health and produce breast milk for their babies. Others have medical conditions that made exclusive breastfeeding impossible but would have struggled to pay for formula without WIC’s help.

We all have one thing in common: We are all counting on our elected leaders to stand up for families by ensuring WIC is fully funded by January 19. Otherwise, our families will be at risk of losing the support we need to thrive.

In the wealthiest nation in the world, no child should ever go hungry, and no family should be forced to rely on cheap, processed foods that don’t provide the nutrients we need. Right now, all of us need to raise our voices and sound the alarm about WIC’s funding emergency and put pressure on lawmakers to take action. The health and economic security of millions of babies, toddlers, pregnant and postpartum women, and their families depends on it.

 

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