State nutrition program safe through January despite government shutdown

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A federally funded program will continue providing food and nutrition assistance to nearly 100,000 Mississippi women and children through January despite the federal government shut down, according to the state Department of Health.

The United States Department of Agriculture, which funds the Women, Infants and Children program, worked with Mississippi’s Department of Health to guarantee funding for another month.

“This gives us a little breathing room,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue

The WIC Program is a supplemental nutrition program for pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants and children under five years of age. WIC operates and maintains 95 distribution sites and serves 95,000 clients statewide each month. If the USDA had not worked out a deal to continue funding, the Department of Health would have had to suspend those services starting Jan. 1.

Other USDA nutritional programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and school lunch programs also have funding through January, according to the agency’s website. The Department of Agriculture will maintain meat, poultry and processed egg inspection services, and inspections of food imports and exports will also continue throughout the shutdown.

“There may be a lapse in funding for the federal government, but that will not relieve USDA of its responsibilities for safeguarding life and property through the critical services we provide,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a statement last  weekend. “…During a shutdown, we will leverage our existing resources as best we can to continue to provide the top-notch service people expect.”

According to the statement, 61 percent of USDA employees were expected to continue to work through the first week of the shutdown, but that number will decrease—and the agency will make additional program cuts—the longer the shutdown goes on.