ROCK FALLS – Stacey Avelar, 31, is one of many who might be affected by the government shutdown.
For 3 years, the Rock Falls resident has participated in WIC, a program officially known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
“It’s been very beneficial,” Avelar said. “It helps supplement the lack of income that we have, especially with groceries being so expensive. It helps us make healthier choices.”
She’s a stay-at-home mom with two sons, Alex, 1, and A.J., who will be 3 in 2 weeks. Her husband just got a new job.
“Times are tough,” she said, “so it’s definitely a bonus that we’re able to participate.”
On Tuesday, the government stopped funding WIC.
The program is a government service that provides education and vouchers for nutritional food, infant formula, and other necessities to moms and children living close to or below the poverty line.
The Rev. Douglas Greenaway, CEO and president of the National WIC Association, said the program has a contingency fund in place for situations like this. But that fund contains only $125 million. WIC is a $7 billion a year operation.
Nationwide, 8.8 million mothers and young children rely on the program. Illinois currently enrolls the sixth highest number of WIC participants in America, with 281,000.
Greenaway said only a handful of states will be able to last through the month. Illinois is one of them. Still other states face more dire situations with funding expected to last only through the end of the week.
“It’s a day-by-day level of uncertainty here,” Greenaway said.
Penny Roth, Illinois’ statewide WIC director, says that of the 281,000 participants, 75,000 of them come from the northwest corner of the state, including Carroll, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties.
“Over these next days we’ll be looking at what our options are, and, you know, worst case would be we could not operate and that would be very unfortunate because there’s a lot of need,” Roth said. “Especially when it comes to babies that are on special formulas – those can be very expensive.”
Roth emphasized that people who are currently in possession of a voucher can continue to use it.
Cathy Ferguson, the administrator of the Lee County Health Department, said that during the 2013 fiscal year, her office serviced 1,566 WIC participants. In Whiteside County, that number is a little higher at 1,788.
Beth Fiorini, public health administrator for Whiteside County Health Department, is worried about what could happen if the funds run out.
“I just think this whole thing is horrible,” Fiorini said. “These people depend on WIC and it’s been proven over and over again to help.
“I don’t know what we’ll do. I don’t know what people will do. We’ll just have to start facilitating them going to food banks and finding ways to get formula.”
On Tuesday, Fiorini estimated her office fielded more than 25 phone calls from participants worried about the effect the shutdown would have on her office.
Greenaway said that 53 percent of American infants benefit from the WIC program.
“Most of us know somebody who was on WIC, or their mom was on WIC, or someone who will be on WIC,” he said.
“It’s stupid,” he said of the defunding. “It is unnecessary, and it’s shameful.”