Oklahoma WIC benefits to continue into March despite shutdown
Oklahoma City — Oklahoma has enough money available to keep funding the WIC food program through at least early March, despite the ongoing federal government shutdown and rumors the program had gone under.
Terry Bryce, state director of the Women, Infants and Children program at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said his office is trying to reach the public after posts circulating on Facebook said that WIC offices were closing and recipients might not get benefits.
The state has enough money available to pay benefits through the first week of March, and expects to get additional funds even if the shutdown continues.
“We're open for business,” he said.
In Oklahoma, WIC covers about 70,000 low-income pregnant women and new mothers, babies and children up to age 5. It covers infant formula and foods that meet nutritional standards, like certain cereals, fruit juice, eggs, some dairy products and peanut butter. The program is funded with federal money, which raised concerns that families could lose benefits as the shutdown stretched on.
The program spends about $2.4 million per month on food and formula, and the state can cover about two-thirds that with rebates from infant formula companies, Bryce said. The exact amount varies based on the type and amount of formula that families in the program purchase, but the state typically receives about $1.6 million monthly, he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has some leftover money from the previous budget year that it is distributing to states for their WIC programs, Bryce said.
Oklahoma likely will receive more in February, but it isn't quite clear how much the state can expect, he said.
The shutdown also raised questions about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. Recipients got their February benefits early so that USDA could tap into certain funds before its authorization expired.
The department has some leftover money available if the shutdown isn't resolved before March, but it isn't clear if it will be enough to cover all of the recipients for the entire month.
About 610,000 people in Oklahoma receive food stamps, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. The department cautioned them to budget carefully, since no food stamps will be awarded in February, and to avoid overwhelming grocery stores by shopping all at once.