Proposed WIC cuts unclear for local health agencies

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan public health officials are uncertain how President Donald Trump’s proposed $150 million cut to a federal women’s food assistance program will impact local agencies.

Trump’s budget allocates $6.2 billion to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) assistance program, according to the National WIC Association. The association requested approximately $6.4 billion, matching appropriations for the past two years.

“At this point, it would be difficult to give any specifics about what would happen to programs at the state level because we don’t know for sure what the federal changes may be,” Jennifer Eisner, a public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email.

Eisner didn’t provide details about specific agency concerns. In a March interview, department Director Nick Lyon said he would be particularly concerned about any changes affecting WIC.

The WIC program is funded by the federal government. It’s administered by state health departments and operates through local health agencies and nonprofit organizations. It serves low-to-moderate income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum and their children under 5 years old.

WIC provides access to healthy foods, nutritional education, breastfeeding support and health referrals.

In a policy update, the National WIC Association stated that the president’s proposed budget “may still be adequate,” but details are under wraps.

Locally, “I think people are worried, but we are unaware of how it will trickle down as an individual county health department,” said Roseann Davis, a public health information officer for the Grand Traverse Health Department in Traverse City.

Some local agency officials say they fear possible repercussions due to funding losses.

“It’s hard to comprehend why there would be cuts,” said Mike Swain, a public information officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan in Charlevoix. The department serves Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.

“We are being very proactive about this,” Swain said. “We have the authority and responsibility to look out for vulnerable populations.”

Swain said the department is reaching out to members of Congress and the Northern Michigan Public Health Alliance to communicate the importance of WIC programs.

“WIC is an extremely important program within the northern Michigan area,” said Linda Yaroch, the previous chair of the Northern Michigan Public Health Alliance. “It probably reaches close to half of our pregnant moms and children.”

In the health department’s four-county area, Yaroch said, about 3,000 families receive WIC services. According to Swain, these services are not limited to food — they encompass important nutritional education and teach about healthy living practices.

“Should funding get cut, our job of reaching out to the community could be hindered, and I don’t think that’s fair for people who might not know these resources,” Swain said.

He said cuts could also mean longer wait times for clients or decreased access to immunization and other health resources. Children without access to nutritional foods may also grow up less healthily. The specific impact on families would depend on the percentage of funding lost, he said.

Other local health agency officials say they’re less concerned about Trump’s proposed cuts.

Valarie Newton, the prevention services director for the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency in Coldwater, said the agency doesn’t anticipate significant cuts. She said the agency isn’t taking any preventive measures at this time.

“If we did get cuts, it would be devastating,” Newton said. “But right now, it looks like we won’t. We can’t scale back any WIC services, so (cuts) would affect our staffing.”  

Moving forward, Swain said there has been talk in Washington about shifting funding for WIC programs to the state level. He said he’s concerned about the feasibility of such plans and will continue to contact legislators to ensure necessary funding.