Brittney Buford didn’t know the best way to wean her 1-year-old son from a bottle. She didn’t realize she should transition him to whole milk rather than a lower-fat variety. And on her salary as a customer service representative, she couldn’t afford the $4 gallon of milk her son goes through every week.
But the 25-year-old Chicagoan learned those nutrition tips and got some help to buy healthy food for her family through the Women, Infants and Children program.
“It’s important because they help you out financially, with prices going up everywhere with everything,” Buford said. “As far as the eating habits of your child, it does give you healthy tips. I do try to follow what they say.”
Service providers and health advocates worry that women who depend on the aid will fall through the cracks as Cook County prepares to close its affiliation with the federally funded, state-administered program. Citing high health care costs and salaries, the county will end its $3.1 million WIC contract June 30. About 70 jobs could be cut, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.
The Illinois Department of Human Services is identifying nonprofit and social service agencies that can pick up the county’s client base of 24,000 women and children. The program helps low-income women who are pregnant, nursing or mothers of children under 5.
“We are working closely with the state to ensure a smooth transition of the program to other community providers,” said Sean McDermott, a county public health spokesman. “The main message here, especially for clients, is that the WIC program is not going away. It’s just going to be provided by a different entity.”
The county has nine WIC sites, and the state so far has three locations to pick up the slack. Penny Roth, the state’s WIC director, said participants will get notices in the mail about the new locations. Fliers also will be distributed and the state plans to set up a free hotline.
But the shift still has social service advocates concerned that some women will inevitably miss the change-of-venue memo.
“Unless they’ve got some kind of PR going on to those families, to those individuals who are the most needy, they should have all types of paraphernalia going out,” said Myrtle Thomas, nutrition program administrator at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. “The (mothers) are dealing with a lot of stress already. … I can see where this could be an issue.”