CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
June 13, 2011 – 11:03 p.m.
WIC Program Counseling: All Talk or Essential Action?
By Kerry Young, CQ Staff
Report language accompanying a spending bill headed to the House floor this week has triggered a partisan battle over whether the counseling component of a well-established social program constitutes non-essential spending.
Republican appropriators looking for ways to trim department and agency budgets have told government officials running the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to reduce administrative costs, which the GOP lawmakers say soaked up more than 40 percent of the program’s budget last year.
But Democrats accuse the GOP of mislabeling important services as bureaucracy.
WIC aids pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 5 years old living in or near poverty. The dispute over administrative costs stems from disagreement over how to count the cost of counseling services. Outside of grants for food, WIC spent about $2.2 billion on administrative costs and counseling, a figure that Republicans contend is too much overhead.
GOP appropriators have included language in the committee report accompanying their fiscal 2012 Agriculture spending bill (
Democrats say Republicans have mischaracterized WIC expenses. They say Republicans are lumping in vital services, including diet counseling, health assessments and drug treatment referrals, with administrative overhead.
Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman
Democrats argue that curbing WIC’s counseling services would be shortsighted, since the program is intended to do more than simply provide food staples such as milk and peanut butter. “It would be foolish of us as a country to go down this path,” said
Actual administrative costs are 9 percent of total program costs, or about $600 million, according to Democrats.
“It’s nowhere close to 40 percent,”
Democrats eventually hope to strike the provision from the final report language sent to the Agriculture Department.