A daughter reaches for bell peppers in a store while piggy-back riding on her mother's shoulders.

A mother and daughter shop for bell peppers.

(Photo: iStock/via Getty Images)

Don’t Let Republicans Slash Fruit-and-Veggies Aid for Kids and Families

Losing the critical WIC benefit would put a huge strain on our budget, not to mention increase my stress level as a busy working parent. And I know I’m not alone.

On Wednesday, Republicans in Congress are attempting to pass a bill that would make staggering cuts to WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. WIC gives expecting and new parents, babies, and children essential access to fresh fruits and vegetables, staple foods, breastfeeding support, formula, and health screenings. The Republicans’ proposal would slash the fruit and vegetable cash value benefit by 56% for kids and 70% for adults. I know firsthand how devastating these cuts would be to millions of families.

When I first became pregnant, it felt like I was screaming into a void. It was unplanned, I couldn’t get a solid job with benefits, and my husband was going through the immigration system. We spent months living in our friend’s basement. During this roller coaster of pregnancy, I spent every day physically ill, confused, anxious, and hopeless. I didn’t know how to find high-quality, respectful perinatal care and ended up having a traumatic birth.

This acute stress was sadly normal. Mental health challenges are the No. 1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth—not surprising, considering the harmful absence of paid leave, affordable childcare, and healthcare in the U.S. Luckily, a social worker got me signed up for Medicaid and WIC—true lifelines to get my family back on our feet.

This amounts to more than a 50% cut for children and an approximately 70% cut for adult participants—that’s barely enough to buy a carton of strawberries or blueberries!

That’s why I was appalled to hear that there’s a Republican spending bill being considered Wednesday in the House of Representatives that would massively cut the WIC cash value benefit for fruits and vegetables to only $11 per month for child participants, $13 per month for pregnant and postpartum participants, and $15 per month for breastfeeding participants. This amounts to more than a 50% cut for children and an approximately 70% cut for adult participants—that’s barely enough to buy a carton of strawberries or blueberries!

Over 34 million Americans face hunger each and every day, including 9 million children. These shocking numbers are even more concerning when we consider the increased nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating people, who need 300 to 400 additional calories per day to meet their energy needs and support the healthy growth of their baby. That’s why it’s so vital that nearly HALF of all babies in the United States receive crucial WIC support—that’s 6.6 million participants in total! Yet could be much greater–50% of parents, infants, and children eligible for WIC are not receiving it. There are many systematic barriers to parents signing up including lack of awareness, stigma, bureaucracy, and lack of time or funds to get to a clinic. Thankfully, remote services implemented during the pandemic have helped mitigate this, tangibly increasing WIC participation by 17% from 2022-2023.

In 2021, Congress increased WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefits to cover 50% of recommended intake under the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is hands down the most valuable part of WIC for my family. Between my always on-the-move baby, my 4 year old, and my appetite as a breastfeeding mom, we devour fresh fruits and veggies as fast as we buy them. But they’re incredibly expensive—I see grocery prices skyrocketing and I’m not just imagining things. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the price of food rose by 11.4% last year. At the same time, greedy corporate giants like Kroger, Walmart, and Tyson are making record profits and shareholder payouts.

Losing the critical fruits and veggies benefit would put a huge strain on our budget, not to mention increase my stress level as a busy working parent. And I know I’m not alone. After years struggling for stability, I’m now a parent advocate with ParentsTogether, a family advocacy nonprofit with more than 3 million members nationwide. Everyday I hear from parents who confirm what I know firsthand—without WIC, pregnancy and those rough first years postpartum would be almost impossible. A recent survey of ParentsTogether members revealed that without this vital program, 64% of WIC recipients would have been unable to afford necessary formula to feed their infants, 52% would have been unable to afford enough food for themselves, and 75% of would not have been able to purchase the nutritious foods they needed.

The Republican proposal would slash a program we know is working. Enhanced fruit and vegetable benefits led to quick results: Within a few months of increased access, WIC children reported higher rates of fruit and vegetable consumption. In fact, a 2022 study from the National WIC Association and the Nutrition Policy Institute measured a ¼ cup per day increase in fruit and vegetable consumption for WIC-enrolled toddlers, helping young children get closer to federal recommendations, following the increase to WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefit.

If the Republican budget proposal passes, not only would 5 million pregnant people, babies, and toddlers experience dramatic reductions to their benefit, but experts say there could be waitlists for moms and kids to get on WIC for the first time in nearly 30 years. We can’t go back in time by letting even more families and babies in need go hungry! As a grateful WIC mom, I implore Congress to act now to ensure WIC receives the full funding it needs to continue being a safety net to millions of struggling parents, babies, and children.

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