Sedgwick County commissioners cut $300K from WIC program

WICHITA, Kan. – There’s less money today in Sedgwick County for the federal program WIC program that pays for food for women, infants and children.

Sedgwick County commissioners had the option to approve $2.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Instead, they voted three to two to turn down part of that funding – $300,000 – for the program.

The Sedgwick County Health Department’s WIC program sees about 11,000 women and children every month.  These are pregnant women, mothers, infants and young kids who can’t afford necessary healthcare on their own.

On Wednesday, some commissioners mentioned that illegal immigrants shouldn’t be able to access the program.  But, in the end they made a decision to turn down the $300,000 available saying they felt that money wasn’t absolutely needed.

“Is this program open to anyone, and do we check citizenship status or anything like that for this program,” asked commission chairman Richard Ranzau.

Health Department Director Adrienne Byrne-Lutz explained they’re not allowed to ask about citizenship status.  She also said the grantors have always been adamant about keeping that information confidential.  If commissioners were to require it in the future, she says difficult decisions may have to be made.

Still, commissioner Ranzau pushed for change.

“I think we should ask KDHE to limit participation to United States citizens, Nationals and qualified aliens as permitted,” said Ranzau.

Some commissioners asked if the $2.2 million available is even necessary?

“I’m concerned about the overhead costs we’re spending here.  I think we spend too much”, said Ranzau.

But advocates KSN spoke with say it’s important for communities to support those in need.

“Without having those services available on an as-needed basis, you have to ask yourself where do you go to get that particular service,” said Jessica Wingler, a counselor at Harbor House.

In the end, commissioners approved a $1.9 million budget.

“It could be a challenge without that money, but we are focusing on making it work,” said Byrne-Lutz.

She says the funding cut would lead to employee lay-offs before it would impact quality of care, but those in favor of full funding were disappointed.

“I believe if we have the resources available we should access and provide that,” said Commissioner Dave Unruh.  “It’s worrisome.  I think we do need those moneys set aside for those services.”

The original grant amount is determined by the number of caseloads WIC programs see next year.  Sedgwick County could see the amount offered by the USDA change based on birth rate statistics and how many women walk into the health department for help.

To find out more about the Sedgwick County Health Department’s WIC program, click here.

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