Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WIC cuts? Oh my!

WIC, a federal program that is supposed to provide assistance to low-income families with children will have its budget cut back under a GOP proposal. The proposed cut would scale back spending on WIC (Women, Infants and Children) to 2008 levels, about $6.3 billion.

As you can imagine, the left-wingers and liberals and Democrats in general are up in arms over this. What hypocrites, they cry. Taking food away from hungry kids! Tax cuts for millionaires (well, those who make more than $200,000)! Subsidies for big oil with their obscene profits (8 cents on the dollar)! My oh my!

(BTW, any informed person knows that the oil and gas industry does not get subsidies, but tax credits similar to all businesses, so it's really the tax code that needs to be reformed).

The truth is this: Food subsidies now cost the taxpayer nearly $100 billion a year, which has almost doubled in the last decade. The federal government as a whole has about 26 food and nutrition programs operated by six different agencies.

Originally set to help low-income families, currently about 45 percent of all families receive WIC payments. Here we go: So about 50 percent of Americans are helping to support the other 50 percent!

Remarkably, the WIC program accounts for about half of all infant formula sold in the nation. The program was supposed to be only for low-income families, yet it now provides free formula for many middle-income families that certainly don’t need government subsidies.

An even more troubling aspect of WIC is that it encourages parents to feed their babies infant formula rather than breast milk. The share of mothers on WIC who are breastfeeding is substantially lower than that of mothers not using WIC. That effect runs directly counter to the universal advice of health care experts regarding the superiority of breast milk for child development. The WIC program results in low-income parents substituting less nutritious formula for more nutritious mother’s milk.

Another troubling aspect of WIC is that the program’s large subsidies for infant formula appear to be driving up the retail price. The price of formula has risen rapidly since the early 1980s as WIC enrollment has increased. Because recipients are not sensitive to the pricing of WIC food items such as formula, stores can raise prices and receive larger cash redemptions from state agencies.

The WIC program drives up the cost of formula for families not on the program as well, and some portion of the taxpayer subsidies for WIC ends up going to the makers of infant formula. This “leakage” of benefits is a common problem in subsidy programs. It is thought, for example, that rising government subsidies for college education have helped spur the rapid inflation in college tuition costs.

Spending must be cut. We just can't keep increasing the number of Americans getting payments from the government. There isn't enough money. Even if you taxed all "millionaires" 100 percent, there still wouldn't be enough money.

There will be some compromises made, and other agencies -- like Defense -- will also have to be cut. Hey, how much are we spending by bombing Libya in an illegal war.

But crying over this cut is nonsense.

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