On March 14th, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams pushed for the US Department of Agriculture to permanently increase and review WIC packages. At a press conference at 875 3rd Avenue, they shared that the time is now for a permanent emergency increase to the WIC program packages.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged businesses and skyrocketed the unemployment rate, like a catastrophic domino effect, those who were already living hand to mouth are now in desperate need of aid. Some have lost their homes, while many still struggle just to put food on the table. There are endless lines of individuals waiting hours upon hours to gain entry into a Food Bank and benefits programs are now more than ever lifesaving resources for families. The WIC program alone has served approximately 6.25 million women during fiscal 2020.
“Too many families are unable to provide for their families,” Gillibrand said, “The growing need for assistance has led to a growing number of families to turn to nutrition programs like the SNAP benefits program—the special supplemental nutrition program. As well as the special nutrition program for Women, Infants, Children or the WIC program. WIC is an essential resource for mothers and young children.”
Gillibrand and Williams are urging the US Department of Agriculture to review the WIC packages, which include food, health screening, breastfeeding consultations and more to ensure healthier options are giving to those in need. Studies have shown that those with underlying conditions caused by unhealthy dietary lifestyles can have a direct impact on mortality when contracting the COVID-19 virus.
Over 200,000 New Yorkers have been participating in the WIC program, a number that has exponentially amplified over the past year. Gillibrand shared that circumstances have worsened, and the current program no longer meets the needs of families. She explained that the average participant receives about $38 a week for food, and children receive merely $2.25 per week for fruits and vegetables.
“Raising the value of the food packages to reflect the cost of a healthy, nutritious diet today and the recommendations of scientific experts will help expand WIC participation and ensure healthier outcomes for the families that rely on them. Improving participation will also help WIC close racial dipartites and address systemic barriers to healthier options in immigrant communities and in communities of color—those hit harder in the pandemic,” Gillibrand said.
The Senator has successfully made it her priority to include an emergency increase for the WIC’s Cash Value Voucher (CVV) for fruits and vegetables in the American Rescue plan. This initiative will temporarily increase the amount of money given to families, rather than receiving $9-$11 monthly, they will be given $35 monthly for about four months during the pandemic.
Now Gillibrand and Williams want this increase to become permanent and for a full review for healthier options.
“We need to permanently raise the value of the food packages so families can afford not just to buy more food but healthier food,” Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand has penned a bicameral letter to Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, stating the need for this emergency increase and to have the program reflect modern healthy nutrition which has been signed by 35 members of Congress.
According to the letter, “Enhancing the nutritional quality, variety, and value of the WIC food packages is an essential step in reaching all eligible families and continuing to leverage WIC’s effective nutrition support to improve health outcomes for pregnant and postpartum mothers, infants, and young children.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams backed this initiative and highlighted how the pandemic exacerbated disparities that have always existed in our communities. With this issue pushed into light, Williams believes it is time to make change and correct those inequities.
“The program has not seen an update, as mentioned, since 2014. It was overdue before the pandemic and now it’s critically urgent. Given the rising cost of food and the explosive growth of New Yorkers battling hunger, there is no better time to revise the food packages,” Williams said.
At the culmination of the press conference, Gillibrand was asked about her stance on the current controversy surrounding Governor Andrew Cuomo. Believing that to hold his position requires steady and focus leadership, she feels that his ability to do the work that needs to be done has been “diminished.”
“Families don’t have enough food to eat right now and focused leadership is needed, and you need the support of your governing partners,” Gillibrand said adding, “It’s clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners as well as the people of New York, that’s why I believe the Governor has to resign.”