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WIC program: Government shutdown imperils food, health benefits for 19,000 in Hamilton County

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CINCINNATI - The federal government shutdown is giving 19,000 Hamilton County residents a real reason to worry.

They are clients of the WIC program, whose funding runs out at the end of the month without congressional action.

WIC stands for women, infants and children and operates in 11 Hamilton County locations like the Northside Health Center.

WIC is a food, nutrition and education program serving pregnant women, women who have given birth within six months and are breast feeding, plus families with children under five.

The cost is $3 million a year, and that's in jeopardy right now.

Patricia Thomas came in for her WIC appointment in Roselawn on Wednesday, thankful for the assistance she gets for her and her 2-year-son Dominic.

"It's real tough because you don't know if you're working, if you're not working, if you're just waiting on things,” Patricia Thomas said.

WIC vouchers average $40 a month for nutritious food so Dominic grows up strong and healthy.

"It helps with the milk that he drinks and the cereal that he eats in the morning and the juice, and it helps with the calories and everything so the kids aren't overweight," Patricia Thomas said.

Right now, the program is running on supplemental funds to carry it over until Congress ends its stalemate.

"If there's not any decisions made by Oct. 31, WIC will cease,” Director Betsy Buchanan said.  “There will be no more and there's not really a program that can take its place."

Buchanan said she is worried about the impact that would have on the people who need help the most.

"The clients will no longer be able to use their supplement vouchers,” Buchanan said.  “They won't be able to come in for their appointments so we can give them the nutritional education, so we can refer them to doctors and immunizations."

And what happens to WIC's 45 employees?

“They’re out of a job basically,” Buchanan said.

The prospect of losing WIC resources is causing Patricia Thomas some sleepless nights.

All she wants is for Dominic to have a fighting chance to succeed in life.

"It's going to be hard out there,” Patricia Thomas said.  “You don't know when your next meal is going to come for your baby.”

Thomas and Buchanan have come up some words of wisdom for Congress.

  "Just hurry up and make a decision and come to an agreement to make things right for the economy," Thomas said.

Buchanan said she would tell lawmakers that WIC is money well spent.

“Take a look at what the WIC program does and see that it is worth every dollar spent and it is helpful and it is needed because of the education, because of the foods that the parents get," Buchanan said.

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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