Jennifer Garner-Hamdi Ulukaya: ‘1 in 5 American kids may go to bed hungry tonight–and unprecedented attacks on the 50-year-old bipartisan WIC program could make the situation even worse’

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS



On the last Thursday of every month, the line of cars outside the Helping Hands food distribution in Norwich, New York forms for hours and stretches for more than a mile. 

There is the dad of three children who says his paycheck doesn’t quite go far enough to pay for both eating and heating. The single parent whose toddler has allergies that require healthier food options beyond her price range. The grandparents of six who can’t stay ahead of inflation and rising food prices on a fixed income.  And the new moms who come through the line pushing babies in their strollers. All leave with some security knowing that they will be supported with a box of food each month, served with dignity and respect by an army of local volunteers there to help neighbors in need.

Across America, lines like these are getting longer, not shorter. For the first time in a decade, hunger is on the rise, and children are impacted most of all. According to a new report by the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of children who live in food-insecure households jumped by nearly half last year. There are now 13 million children–that’s one in five American children–who may go to bed hungry tonight. 

All children deserve the opportunity to play, to learn, to grow, and to be healthy. They can’t do those things if they’re not being fed. Thanks to a very successful program that feeds our most under-resourced people, known as The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), our country has never turned its back on hungry children. But unless Congress acts to provide full funding by Jan. 19, when funding for WIC is set to expire, we will have done just that.

As the parents of young children, and as the respective founders of two food brands that share a similar mission of making better food available to all, we need your help to say: This cannot and must not happen. Congress must fully fund WIC.  

In our jobs, we are privileged to see everyday moments of grace through partnerships with civil society to feed hungry families across the country. We also pay our employees competitive wages so families can thrive–and we call on other companies to do the same. WIC needs to be fully funded, but paychecks should grow as well.

But all of us combined cannot do what WIC does. It is America’s essential feeding program. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024, WIC has provided hundreds of millions of low-income moms, babies, and children with life-giving nutritious food, including eggs, bread, cheese, cereal, and infant formula. WIC also provides nutrition counseling, breastfeeding education, and a cash benefit to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

In fact, fruits and veggies are so crucial to growing bodies that during the pandemic, monthly vouchers for children were expanded from $9 per month to $26. 

The results have been dramatic. A mom in Idaho says her kids now crave fruits and vegetables as snacks. A mom from West Virginia says it makes available healthy food she couldn’t otherwise afford. All told, the so-called benefit bump has increased average fruit and vegetable intake by a crucial one-quarter cup per child.

That’s just the beginning.  The USDA has found that WIC has driven a 16% reduction in infant mortality rates–not to mention fewer incidents of low birth weight, better brain development, and higher test scores. It’s no wonder that a 2019 study found that every dollar spent on WIC leads to an average healthcare savings of $2.48.

As food prices rise and pandemic-era benefits end, many more under-resourced citizens are turning to WIC to feed their families. While 6.7 million eligible moms and kids were on the program as of July, that number is expected to increase to almost 7 million in 2024. 

WIC has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support. But now, even as WIC is more needed than ever, some are calling this vital program into question. We can all agree that politics should not get in the way of feeding our kids.

Fully funding WIC is estimated to cost $7.5 billion in fiscal year 2024. So far, lawmakers haven’t come close. Some are even proposing to cut fruit and vegetable benefits. Unless our lawmakers act, on Jan. 19, WIC will run out of money. For the first time in 50 years, we will (have to) turn hungry children away.

But in a country that spends more than $136 billion each year on our pets, we cannot fall short when it comes to feeding our kids.   

That’s why we are joining with the good people at the National WIC Association to call on our elected officials to fully fund WIC to ensure that all who are eligible be allowed to participate in its life-saving benefits. If you visit the association’s website, they’ll help you reach out directly to your elected officials. 

Food pantries across the country provide Americans in need with the peace of mind to know that each month, help will be there for them. Let’s make sure that the moms, babies, and children who depend on the WIC program can continue to say the same.

Jennifer Garner is an award-winning actor and co-founder of Once Upon a Farm, which is working to become the first supplier to WIC of farm-fresh organic baby food. Hamdi Ulukaya is the founder and CEO of Chobani.

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