The government shutdown created some confusion in Montana today.
The federal supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a nutrition education program that provides healthy foods, nutrition information and referrals to health and social services in the community.
Some worried WIC offices would be closed Tuesday. The Missoula Health Department had busy phones lines, with people concerned about losing their benefits.
Nutrition Services Manager Mary Pittaway said staff expected to get an email Tuesday morning about making adjustments to the benefits they can provide.
“Everybody came with a feeling of dread because we'd heard on the news that the government shutdown actually has happened,” Pittaway said.
An initial email from the Montana WIC Program office advised local agencies to only hand out a food voucher good for one month. But Pittaway said some families are used to getting enough vouchers to last three or even four months.
“It's of concern,” Pittaway said. “This is a basic building block of families’ resources to be able to meet the needs of their children.”
But shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services, Family and Community Bureau sent another email to Local WIC Agencies.
“Dear Local WIC Agencies, We would like to take a minute to clarify the email sent this morning about the federal government shutdown and its impact on the Montana WIC program. At this time, all Montana WIC Programs should maintain standard operating procedures. Please operate your local agency as you normally would, according to the Montana WIC State Plan. DPHHS will continue to provide all of its services as usual. There is no need to issue only one month of benefits. Please continue to order special medical formulas through your regular state office contacts. We apologize for any mixed messages.”
Regardless of what solution the state has or what happens in Washington, Pittaway says WIC will still be impacted.
“It's a ripple effect and a cascade of problems that take weeks to undo.”