U.S. House debates cuts to domestic nutrition programs

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Lawmakers in the U.S. House started debate today on a food and farm spending bill that includes cuts to a program that helps poor mothers and their children buy food. The 2012 budget proposal cuts the Women, Infants, and Children program by $686 million, as compared to the funding level for FY2011.

If those cuts were implemented, some low-income women and their children would likely be turned away from the program in Minnesota, said Betsy Clarke, WIC program director for Minnesota.

Clarke cites numbers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The liberal research and advocacy group estimates, based on food price projections, that Minnesota would have to turn away 3000-5300 eligible participants if the cuts passed. Minnesota currently serves about 130,000 participants each month.

For years, lawmakers have awarded WIC enough money so that all eligible people can get food. The program provides healthy foods like milk, eggs and infant formula to about 9 million people. It also provides nutrition education.

“The thing that’s special about WIC is that they’re not just receiving any food, they’re receiving a food package that’s really designed to support healthy prenatal weight gain during pregnancy and a good healthy pregnancy outcome,” said Clarke. “So those services –the nutrition assessment, the nutrition counseling that goes with it — wouldn’t be available. And I think that could easily have a significant health impact on pregnant women, infants, and young children here in Minnesota.”

Republicans who wrote the bill said the cuts in domestic food programs come from excess dollars in those accounts, and participants won’t see a decrease in services. GOP leaders are trying to control spending in next year’s budget.