Less stigma, more empathy for WIC families

by Sharisse Tracey | May 31, 2019 7:00 am

Credit: FatCamera

Credit: FatCamera

In my struggles as a single mom on a limited income, the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) helped my family get by. The shame I felt from the rude cashiers and gawking eyes around me every time I pulled out a voucher in the grocery store to pay for the food items WIC supports such as milk, eggs, cheese, beans, whole grain cereal and peanut butter was humiliating and intimidating. It’s a feeling I don’t wish on any other parent trying to take care of their children.

Imagine my joy when I heard on our local New York news that WIC families in the state will start using ATM-style cards for their purchases instead of the paper vouchers. The mom featured in the news interview I watched spoke with complete elation at the change, saying the cards will lessen the public shame she’s felt when using paper vouchers to pay for items.

Parents of young children deal with more than their share of stress regardless of income. I know first-hand that if you’re barely making ends meet your stress level is much higher and you worry about basic things like feeding your young children and keeping them and you healthy.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump may increase WIC parents’ stress-levels soon if he gets his way and decreases access to this highly successful program.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), WIC is America’s third-largest nutrition assistance program. Its purpose is to give low-income parents of children under age five a boost to help meet nutritional needs that might get pushed aside when money gets tight. Expectant and new moms, foster parents, guardians and single fathers with custody of their children can also access the program.

According to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the program provides nutritious foods to supplement diets, offers information on healthy eating, promotes and supports breastfeeding and offers referrals to health care. Last year, the USDA says WIC served about 6.9 million participants per month, including almost half of all infants born in the U.S.

I have relied on WIC to help support my family more than once. As a first-time mom in the early 90’s, I first used the program after having difficulty with breastfeeding my son. But the stigma and shame associated with WIC made me hesitant to apply for the help I desperately needed.

Except for my first time in the program, I was working full-time and attending college. According to the Carsey School of Public Policy, my story isn’t rare. In urban areas like New York City, those with some college education are just as likely to receive WIC as those with less than a high school diploma.

This fact dispels the myth that lazy and unmotivated parents use WIC.

I’m sorry I let the stigma about using a government-funded assistance program for low-income families delay my initial application. As it turns out, WIC would have provided invaluable information and assistance while I was pregnant and struggling with months of all-day sickness, insecurity and fear.

My caution for applying to the program came from years of hearing all the misinformation floating around about low-income people. The “Welfare Queen” stereotype I first heard as a child stuck with me as I struggled to get by and provide for my children.

WIC is essential because it provides valuable information for a new parent and serves as emotional and financial support for families. It gives them peace of mind that their pregnant or new mom and young child will have the nutrition they need to have a healthy baby and properly develop in their formative years.

President Trump should be applauding the success of this program which serves families of every race in every part of the country and lowers maternal mortality rates, improves the cognitive development of babies and supports the academic achievement of small children. Instead, his proposed budget cut this year of 9 percent to non-defense programs including WIC threatens to pull the rug out from under families who need the extra support.

The possible cuts further his war on families struggling to get by and gives mileage to the myths and stigmas associated with them receiving government assistance to make ends meet.  

Regardless of what happens with this year’s federal budget, have some empathy for the mothers and fathers in line with you at your local Target or Walmart paying for their items with WIC cards. They want the same options and opportunities as you do for your children.

Moms like me who have been WIC parents are very grateful for the program. Without it, our children may not have been born healthy or maintained good health during their formative years.

Every healthy child is an asset and has value no matter if their parents receive assistance to feed and care for them.

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