This is going to sound odd, but I have fond memories of receiving WIC benefits as a young mother. For about two years, I gratefully took advantage of both Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Perhaps because I was working in a health food store at the time, I liked the idea that WIC only covered nutritious foods like milk, peanut butter, and the soy formula my highly allergic toddler needed for his Cheerios. It also didn't carry with it the stigma of the Medicaid card. Unlike some medical professionals, grocery store cashiers didn't seem to begrudge my benefits.
In its annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals that it spent $60.7 billion on food assistance programs in 2008, an 11 percent increase from 2007 and the eighth consecutive record-breaking increase. WIC was the fastest growing program of the year, even though it only accounted for a tenth of the outlay.
WIC ensures basic nutrition for nascent human life. It's a program pro-lifers can heartily support. I would even say we have a moral obligation to support it. With an appallingly high infant mortality rate, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links to maternal poverty, the United States is shamefully derelict in the health of its youngest members.
In a recent Atlantic post, Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, wondered "what it means that half of U.S. infants are born into families so poor that they are eligible for WIC benefits." I can't answer that question because I wasn't poor, I was just eligible. I worked, lived with my parents, and later repaid my debt many times over through taxes and a public school mentorship to teen mothers. Three vital elements were at work in overcoming my situation. First was the support of my middle class family. Second was my own sense of responsibility for my circumstances. Third was government assistance. (Marriage eliminated this element.) Thus, I'm in no position to begrudge people their benefits.
Nonetheless, I've been struggling with one of the Capitol Hill Day action items I received at the Mobilization to End Poverty event sponsored by Sojourners and World Vision last week.
Attendees were asked to elicit support from their representatives for Congressional Resolution 102 - the goal of which is to cut poverty in half by 2020. It's a lofty, laudable goal, but the resolution defines poverty broadly to include systemic causes like "lack of opportunity" and "inequitable distribution of housing choices." Additionally, it opens by stating that the United States has "a moral responsibility to meet the needs of those persons, groups, and communities that are impoverished, disadvantaged, or otherwise in poverty," but it doesn't tell me who the United States is or to what extent we the people are responsible for each other.
Providing basic nutrition is one thing. Reforming health care is another. Ensuring opportunity and equitable distribution of housing smacks of social engineering, the likes of which give this Obama voter the willies.
An average 28.4 million of us received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits each month in 2008. That's nearly 10 percent of the population. Only 8.7 million women and children received WIC benefits. If CR 102 defined these United States beyond the federal government to include individuals, families, and culture-shapers, and if its goals were tangible, like cutting infant mortality in half and ensuring that every woman and child who needs WIC receives it, I might be interested in lobbying my representative. What I can't do is support a vague resolution that simultaneously makes all of us and none of us responsible for who knows what.
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