Testimony to DC Council on WIC

description of importance of WIC for maternal and child health

Testimony to DC Council on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children by Ronald Jarrett, Coalition Director, Under 3 DC

 

Racism defines almost every aspect of society. We have seen how generations of inequality have resulted in a nation struggling to maintain a civil society today. The time has come to let go of outmoded paradigms, protocols, and biases in all of our social systems. This starts by acknowledging that our social systems do not yet provide justice for our Black and Brown educators, families, and little ones. This acknowledgement must also include supporting access to nutritious food for our expectant parents, their infants, and toddlers. 

February 2020 saw 12,354 participants in the DC's WIC program. We believe, given the Covid-19 pandemic, that number will increase significantly. In a poll given May 21-26, 2020, two-thirds of DC households with children reported being not at all confident, or only somewhat confident, about being able to afford food for the next four weeks.

As further explained and illustrated in the attached document, WIC is a federally funded program that provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals to low-income pregnant and postpartum adults, infants, and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk. WIC participation contributes to healthier births, improved infant feeding practices, more nutritious diets, better access to health care for children, and academic development. Only roughly one-third of those DC residents who are eligible actually receive benefits.

DC should improve outreach through funding data systems that allow WIC to reach out to potentially eligible residents in other programs, encouraging medical providers to tell their patients about the benefits of WIC. DC should also reduce the stigma of using WIC by completing its transition from vouchers to electronic benefits by the end of 2020. 

The Under 3 DC Coalition knows that having low income - or having lost a job during the public health emergency - is NOT a character flaw. Simply because you can’t afford more doesn’t mean you don’t deserve better. Budgets are opportunities to level the playing field and make sure all DC residents have resources and services sufficient to meet their needs.

Projected municipal revenue losses are scary things. But our knee-jerk reaction to reach for programmatic cuts has been proven by history to be short-sighted, and ultimately contributes to larger problems soon after. We can choose to lessen the harm of this pandemic by looking to new revenue opportunities to meet the city’s needs and better protect us from future crises.

  • During an economic downturn, leading economists favor targeted tax increases—which don’t hurt the economy or low-income families—over spending cuts, which do.
     
  • Cutting vital programs will worsen the economy’s fall, hurt families that are struggling to stay afloat, and jeopardize the District’s ability to make a full or just recovery.

We say “we’re all in this together,” yet our tax policies tell a different story. By asking DC’s richest households, giant corporations, and real estate developers to pay their fair share, we will have more revenue to address budget shortfalls and provide targeted recovery support to those individuals and local businesses that have been hardest hit.

Raising high-end tax rates would help tackle the shortfall and correct massive, long-standing inequities in our tax code. A teacher earning $60,000 pays the same income tax rate as a CEO earning $350,000. Worse, that teacher’s tax rate is only half of a percentage point less than what a multinational developer earning over $1 million pays! That’s fundamentally unjust, and it’s bad economic policy. 

We cannot finance early childhood health and education needs on the backs of program cuts for essential services on which families rely (such as WIC, housing, SNAP, ending homelessness, paid family leave, and more). A more equitable and just approach would be to meet our budget requests through a combination of better oversight on spending, scaling back tax giveaways, AND raising revenue.

To make it through the crisis and build a just recovery, it is important for DC’s response to preserve and build upon crucial investments in early childhood education. New revenue options must be part of the solution to ensure those who are already suffering the most from this pandemic are not further hurt by budget cuts to critical programs. To do otherwise ignores the wisdom gained during this incredibly challenging, yet not improbable, time in our human history.