Growing need strains Boone County WIC program

Nutrition program that helps women and children might have to ration aid.
Monday, January 10, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:44 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

At its current rate of growth, a government program in Boone County that assists women and children with nutritional needs could be forced to turn away dozens of people in the next few months.

Carolyn Ezzell, a nutritionist and coordinator for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, estimates that as many as 100 people per month will be denied assistance if state funding is not increased. WIC will have to wait until the end of February to find out whether it will receive more funding.

The WIC program aids the health and development of low-income women, infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk. To do so, it provides money for families to buy food and offers nutritional education and health care referrals.

In November, the Boone County WIC program served 2,170 people, but the state has budgeted to aid only 2,017 people per month.

“We hope to get that number bumped up to 2,150,” Ezzell said.

Sixty percent of WIC’s 2004 budget of $354,946 was provided by the state and federal government. That number dropped to 54 percent in 2005, although the budget increased to $381,133.

The new location of the Columbia-Boone County Health Department on West Worley Street has made seeking assistance more convenient for those in need, Ezzell said. Since the move, the health department has seen a 7.5 percent increase in people served in the WIC program.

“The location is better, and access to the program is improved,” she said.

Ezzell said the department’s previous location in downtown Columbia made parking and getting into and out of the building difficult.

“Families with kids and babies had to circle to find parking and then cross busy streets,” she said. “I think a lot of people got frustrated and left.”

To be financially eligible for assistance, a family’s income can be up to 185 percent above the federal poverty line. This is because the WIC program seeks to aid not just the impoverished, but also the working poor. The federal poverty line varies with the number of people in a family, but it ranges from $12,490 for a two-member family and $22,030 for a five-member family.

A person who participates in the MC+/Medicaid Program, Food Stamp Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program automatically meets eligibility requirements.

Ezzell said most families receiving support are two-parent households, with both parents working minimum-wage jobs. She said the belief that most recipients are single, teen mothers is wrong. It is families dependent on minimum-wage jobs who most need WIC support.

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