WIC checks to be held if shutdown continues
By KALEY CONNER
As a partial federal government shutdown reaches the end of its second week, ripple effects are being felt locally, particularly among pregnant women and mothers with young children.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday directed local WIC offices to hold November and December checks due to concerns the federal government might not be able to financially back the program.
In Ellis County, health officials were working Thursday to answer clients' questions and urging women who benefit from the program not to panic -- yet.
"You have to understand all of this is being held now because of what's going on in Washington," said Lynda Arnhold, office manager at the Ellis County Health Department in Hays.
"If they get that settled in the next few days or next week, this could all go back to normal. This is just precautionary in case they don't get things settled."
The federal Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program offers food vouchers for pregnant women and families with young children.
Women who have been issued WIC checks dated for October can continue to redeem them at local grocery stores as usual. Checks dated November and December should be held at this time.
Local agencies were instructed to issue WIC checks to customers one month at a time, but some women already might have received checks for upcoming months, as the vouchers sometimes are issued for two or three months at once.
"Starting today, we're only issuing (checks) one month at a time until we're directed differently," said Donna Terry, administrator of the Sherman County Health Department on Thursday.
The Sherman County office manages the WIC program for six northwest Kansas counties, serving nearly 600 clients. In Ellis County, more than 350 clients were enrolled in the program as of late September, Arnhold said.
Statewide, the nutrition program serves approximately 70,000 participants each month.
The service helps women purchase nutritious foods for themselves and their children. It also can be used to purchase infant formula.
The Ellis County Health Department, which manages the program locally, had been getting calls from concerned clients since the announcement was made, Arnhold said. If participants are unsure if their WIC checks can be redeemed, they can call the health department at (785) 628-9440.
"Limiting the issuance of WIC Checks is the appropriate response at this time," said Dave Thomason, Kansas WIC director, in a press release. "We are hopeful that the shutdown will be resolved before it impacts WIC past the month of October, but we must be fiscally responsible during this time of uncertainty."