Emergency federal grant will reopen Utah’s WIC clinics
Assistance • Agriculture Department’s $2.5 million to underwrite clinics through October.

By Mike Gorrell

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: October 3, 2013 02:57PM
Updated: October 3, 2013 11:25PM
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Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo Alejandra Castro, 34, shows up at the Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake with her 6-week-old Alejandro Ruz in hopes of getting baby formula for her son on Wednesday. With the federal shutdown taking effect, the repercussions are being manifest from the bottom up as women who rely on the federally funded WIC (Women, Infants and Children) are unable to get baby formula. Emergency funding came through Thursday that will keep WIC open through October.

Utah’s WIC offices are reopening.

The state’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program received $2.5 million in emergency funding Thursday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, enabling local health department clinics to reopen and begin issuing food vouchers to new and existing clients.

“It is anticipated all clinics will be open by noon Friday,” said Chris Furner, who runs the WIC program for the Utah Department of Health. Clinic staff will begin issuing new food vouchers immediately.

In Salt Lake and Summit counties, which kept their clinics open with emergency local funding, vouchers may be distributed as early as Thursday afternoon, he added.

“This is welcome news for the 66,000 moms, babies and children we serve, especially those who didn’t have food vouchers for October,” Furner said, adding “we’re not out of the woods yet. If Washington can’t reach an agreement to end the shutdown by the end of this month, we’ll likely wind up in the same position we found ourselves in earlier this week.”

The program has been shut down partially since the federal government ceased most operations Tuesday because of a congressional budget stalemate.

Furner said emergency funding should enable low-income women and their children under age 5 to receive vital foodstuffs, infant formula and nutrition education through the end of October from 300 Utah retailers who participate in the program.

But “if the federal government does not resume normal operations by then,” he warned, “it’s likely the program would again have to scale back operations.”

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that the state had found enough money to keep the program afloat for a few weeks before USDA’s announcement, but the longer-term fix was needed to help the women and children on the program meet their nutritional needs.

“We want to make sure they are taken care of,” the governor said.

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg