WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2016 – USDA will temporarily allow Michigan to use its WIC funds to test about 3,800 WIC participants who may have been exposed to lead during the ongoing drinking water crisis in Flint.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides funding to states for food and healthcare assistance, specifically for low-income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or recently gave birth, and to infants and children under six years old.

Kathryn Wilson, USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, made the announcement while visiting a WIC clinic and an elementary school in Michigan.

“Our goal is simple: to encourage folks to maximize the healthy foods they have available in order to mitigate the effects of lead,” Wilson said in a release. “We’re working in partnership with other federal agencies to make every possible resource available to help. We encourage people affected by this crisis to visit the local health department to find out what nutrition programs they may be eligible for that could help.”

The department will also extend community eligibility status to at least 28 Flint schools, which means the 144,000 students in those schools who are receiving means-tested public assistance can easily be enrolled in the federal free and reduced-priced school meal program.

Through community eligibility status, those students could also receive nutritional benefits during the summer months via the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for Children program, which gives families with children that are eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals an EBT debit card they can use to purchase food.

According to USDA, Michigan must submit an initial application by Friday for Flint to participate in the summer feeding program. 

The ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, thanked President Barack Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for helping the people of Flint, as she requested.

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“USDA is stepping up to help ensure children and families in Flint have access to critical health resources and nutritious foods during this crisis,” Stabenow said in a release. “I will continue to do everything in my power to help Flint during this emergency.”

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has been working with state agencies in Michigan to address the lead crisis since September 2015, USDA says.

For example:

  • At the end of January, FNS approved Michigan’s request for $62,700 in additional funding to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to more eligible schools, providing additional fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost to students. The aid will help schools identify and incorporate more foods high in vitamin C, calcium, and iron that can reduce lead levels in the body.
  • FNS gave mothers of formula-fed infants participating in WIC the option to receive ready-to-feed formula instead of the standard powdered formula. In addition, the 7,585 Flint residents participating in the WIC program (including 1,527 women, 1,792 infants, and 4,266 children) are being offered water filters and supportive services.
  • FNS is currently working with the state to provide targeted USDA food items that could help mitigate the effects of lead absorption.
  • Through its Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), SNAP nutrition education, and its support for food banks, FNS is leveraging partnerships with community-based organizations and farmers markets to increase nutrition education efforts on how healthy food may help mitigate lead absorption.

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