Government nutrition program sees decline in participants

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MISSION, Kan. -- You might think that a government nutrition program for women and their babies wouldn't see a drop in participants as the economy continues to sputter some. But that's happening in Johnson County and many places around the country.

Jonte' Woodberry needs some help feeding herself, her newborn and 13-month-old.

"It'd be really difficult to not have WIC at a time like this because I'm not employed right now," said Woodberry.

WIC is the Women, Infants and Children program. It provides formula, although it strongly encourages and supports breastfeeding. WIC also pays for nutritious foods at the store. The benefit ranges from $60 to $100 per person, per month.

Woodberry had no trouble getting an appointment to be re-certified for WIC.

"We had appointments available all through November. We have appointments even now which is unheard of for this time of year," said Laura Drake, director of Johnson County WIC.

The county's WIC program has a thousand fewer participants now than it had last January, and Drake is concerned. She said she understands that people may see the downturn as good news for taxpayers.

"But when we know there's clients, there's people out there, families that need these services and not applying for 'em, we feel there's some other factors weighing in," said Drake.

She points to the government shutdown in the fall. She thinks people didn't realize WIC was open then, and still is. Other possible factors here and nationwide include a declining birth rate. Also, some moms are turning instead to the SNAP or food stamp program. WIC is not quite as flexible in what participants can buy, and WIC requires health assessments and visits with dietitians. Drake sees those as good for moms and their little ones.

Woodberry has her own theory about why there are fewer families in WIC.

"I think maybe because women don't know that this resource is out there," said the mom.

She considers it a valuable resource in insuring that her babies are healthy.

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