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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.
Washington political theater is horror show for Utah moms

Low-income mothers aren’t getting vouchers to help pay for baby formula, so they’re scrambling to find it elsewhere.

First Published Oct 02 2013 05:28 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:35 pm

The political theater in Washington, D.C., has real life consequences for tens of thousands of low-income Utah mothers suddenly faced with the scary prospect of not being able to provide for their little ones.

"How am I going to feed my baby," said a frightened Salt Lake City woman who found out Wednesday morning that the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program had been suspended because of the congressional budget stalemate.

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"I didn’t know about the shutdown," said the woman who identified herself only by the initials U.A. "My kid is on formula and I don’t know what I am going to do. I don’t have money to buy formula."

WIC provides vouchers that may be redeemed at supermarkets for formula and other essentials. It is federally funded but administered in Utah by counties.

The Salt Lake County Council passed emergency funding Tuesday to buy extra food and formula and keep some WIC personnel on the job during the first week of the shutdown. These workers can provide guidance for people coming to WIC clinics but not grocery vouchers. Instead, the recipients are referred to food pantries for supplies.

In other Utah counties, WIC offices are dark.

Emergency aid » U.A., who has a five-month old, found her way to the food pantry at Crossroads Urban Center, 347 S. 400 East, in Salt Lake City. Crossroads provides formula, as well as food, to those in need. It is one of the few food pantries to offer formula.

But U.A., who uses 10 12-ounce cans of formula a month, can only get one can at a time from Crossroads. She can return for more after three days.

A 12-ounce can of powdered formula is mixed with water for use. It costs about $16 per can at local grocery stores.

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The 22-year-old U.A. is married to a disabled man who cannot work, she explained.

"This is ridiculous. People live off WIC," she said. "Are they going to leave my kid starving?"

Midvale resident Alejandra Castro, 34, also was in a panic Wednesday when she learned WIC was shut down. The WIC office in Midvale referred her to the Copperview Food Bank, she said. But that pantry doesn’t carry formula and it sent her to Crossroads Urban Center.

"I came here as fast as I could," she said with a sigh of relief.

Castro, who is a mother of a six-week-old and typically uses nine of the 12-ounce cans of formula a month, said the WIC closure took her by surprise. "For a lot of people, it’s not good," she said. "WIC is all for the babies."

Although thankful for one can of formula, she was dismayed that she would have to drive downtown from Midvale every three days for another can of formula until the government shutdown ends.

"It’s not close for me," she said. "But I need to come here."

Rising demand » Since Monday morning, the food pantry at Crossroads has experienced an increase in women looking for formula, said Rachel Fischbein, the center’s emergency services director.

"I will need more formula, no doubt about that," she said. "It’s nice [for Congress] to say, ‘Oh, we won’t see a services impact for a week or so.’ But on the bottom [income group], it’s immediate."

Crossroads Urban Center is accepting donations of formula, which can be dropped off at the center, she said.

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