Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Utah WIC Is Dead, Long Live Utah WIC

posted on 10/2/2013 by the Salt City Sinner

Usually, when I want low-quality local news, I watch Biff and Becky Chucklehead and the Morning Yuk-Yuk Crew (coloquially known as KUTV's "2News This Morning”). I'll gnaw on the grey and fleshless bones of the Salt Lake Tribune if I feel like reading a newspaper, but I generally get that inclination about as often as I feel like indulging in a bit of falconry or maybe some hurdy-gurdy music.

After following local coverage of the impact of the Federal clown orgy's decision to shut down the U.S. Government on WIC, however, I may have to add the Trib to my hate-read list. The barest minimum of background: due to two political parties' inability to cut a deal in Washington, the federal government has temporarily “suspended operations” (read: they will still spy on you and blow things up, but good luck visiting Yellowstone or, if this keeps up long, getting your food stamps).

Incidentally, C-SPAN covered the negotiations between House Republicans and the Senate:

This has led to a flurry of coverage in Utah regarding What The Shutdown Means For Your Family. In this regard, the Tribune has sucked royally. Admittedly, they covered the effects of the shutdown on national parks and the tourism industry, and even had a handy “explainer” (inexplicably and infuriatingly not available online) to tell you what was and wasn't going to change once it became clear that Ted Cruz would rather burn D.C. to the swampy, sodden ground than admit that the Affordable Care Act is law.

Absent from the Trib's coverage has been a better-than-cursory examination of how the shutdown is going to affect what is one of Utah's most vulnerable populations: low-income mothers with infant children.

WIC – short for a much lengthier acronym that ends in “Women, Infants, and Children” – is a USDA assistance program that provides low-income mothers who have children under the age of five with food, infant formula, breastfeeding support, health screenings, pediatric appointments and other health services. Even your most hard-core, take-no-prisoners small-government type would probably not choose this program as the first one on the chopping block.

And yet, this humble sack-o-beans blog received the following e-mail, forwarded by a concerned colleague at a social service agency:

Hi Team -- please inform clients "Due to the Federal government shutdown all Utah WIC clinics are closed until government operations resume. All WIC Appointments are canceled. Utah WIC checks for the month of October are still being accepted at WIC authorized grocery stores."

That is correct. As of October 1st at midnight, WIC Utah is in serious trouble.

These are not federal grants to study the mating habits of the leprechaun. This is not an agri-business subsidy. These are check-ups and wellness appointments for children and their mothers -- this is basic medical care for poor kids under the age of five. All clinics are closed, all appointments canceled.

You might not know this reading the Tribune, however! A quick search of “Utah government shutdown WIC” yielded pretty scanty results to begin with:

One article apiece from KSL, Fox 13, and the Deseret News, along with a smattering of national coverage – but note that while KSL et. al. put up articles that directly deal with the impact to WIC specifically, the Tribune simply lumps that in as a footnote in a longer piece about “furloughed workers” (not a lot of worry thrown to sick kids there, Salt Lake Tribune!).

Moving on from my grievance with local ink-and-paper folded news sources, it is worthy of a note of emphasis here how truly awful this is. WIC provides the most basic and badly needed possible aid – literally food and medicine, not steaks or Cadillacs or ObamaPhones – to the most at-risk population possible. The fact that politicians like Mike Lee gobble about “family values” and “Utah values” like overgrown atomic turkeys whenever a microphone is shoved into their faces just adds to how galling this is.

Thankfully, that depressing and brief email was not the last word on this.

The following story just went live on Fox 13:

While clinics across the state started shutting down Tuesday, Salt Lake County has provided money to keep clinics operational for a week. 

“This program would have ceased to be funded today at 5 p.m. with the impending federal shutdown — the county stepped forward and said we cannot allow that to happen,” said Jim Bradley, Salt Lake County Councilman.  
Salt Lake County officials say 25,000 people rely on WIC, which provides baby formula diapers and food for women in need. The council is taking $137,000 out of its savings and spending it to keep six WIC clinics in the county open for one week — but the 46 other clinics in Utah will be closed come Tuesday, which means hundreds of employees that keep the clinics running are temporarily out of work.

Every single Salt Lake County Councilperson who voted to approve emergency WIC funding just earned their wings.

While residents of Utah outside of our socialist salt city-state might be about to endure some very hard times indeed, it looks like the county just bought low-income mothers another week. Here's hoping a week is more than anyone will need.

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