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Outside of Salt Lake County, the dozen county and regional health departments that handle WIC were "completely closed down," said Tom Hudachko, state Health Department spokesman.
"They were not even able to staff their offices like they can in Salt Lake County, where they can provide counseling. They can’t accept new clients and are not able to issue new vouchers for existing clients," he added, noting that there are 66,000 recipients of WIC aid statewide.
Some 25,000 of those who reside in Salt Lake County can expect limited relief because of the emergency county appropriation.
The shutdown also has impacted 270 workers in local health departments along with 20 at the state level. Most have been furloughed, Hudachko said, although it is difficult to say specifically how many because in some local agencies, the employees perform multiple tasks, not all of which are federally funded.
At the state Health Department, he said, three WIC-related people are still working — the program manager and a financial officer who are keeping track of existing vouchers as they’re redeemed and a nutritionist who is answering calls on a department hotline.
Shutdown ‘poster child’ » "This program really is the poster child for the government shutdown," Hudachko observed. "We have tens of thousands of people who can’t get formula for their children. It’s certainly pretty real to them."
The federal government’s breakdown triggered a grassroots response through social media. A Facebook site called "The People’s WIC — Utah" was set up to help. By Wednesday afternoon, there were multiple entries from WIC recipients describing their needs as well as offers from people in several communities who offered to donate or collect foodstuffs for those in need.
Jen Gallegos in Tooele said she had coupons for $5 off a couple of brands of infant formula. Amanda Chappell in Smithfield posted that she had "lots of jars of baby food." Heather Pimley Palmer of Saratoga Springs volunteered her home as a drop-off point for donations to help people in northern Utah County.
"Any families that are in need of anything, please contact me and we will do all we can to get you what you need," she wrote, adding a smiley face to her post.
In Price, local La Leche League group founder Chapel Taylor-Olsen offered breast feeding counseling, knowing there were plenty of people having difficulty finding formula.
"It’s a huge problem for everyone involved," she said in a telephone interview, adding that the government shutdown "feels a little unnecessary." Still, she vowed, "I can only go so far physically, but I can try to do as much as I can over the phone or by email."
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