Don't worry -- yet.
That's the message the woman who overseas the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has for area participants.
As the federal government shutdown drags through its second week, Laurie Rittel, who serves as the WIC public health and nutrition supervisor, said that both Florida and Monroe County should be able to ride out the shutdown without any diminishment in services.
"Florida is in a little better shape than some of the other states," Rittel said. "We're really lucky because for the foreseeable future, we're going to continue with WIC services. We have temporary operating dollars, including reallocated federal funding, U.S. Department of Agriculture contingency funds, and also instant baby formula rebates. The Florida Department of Health is going to continue to monitor the situation in D.C., but the last that I've heard is that we've good until the end of October."
The WIC program, which began in 1972, is a federal assistance program of the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA which provides health care and nutritious food to low-income pregnant women, breast-feeding women, and infants and children under the age of five.
It helps women with a family income below 185 percent of the poverty income guidelines purchase healthy and nutritious foods while pregnant, nursing or raising children to the age of 5. It's unrelated to the USDA's foodstamp program, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and serves more than half of all the infants born in the United States.
In Monroe County, the program's reach is somewhat less pervasive, due to the differing demographics and the number of childless couples and retirees here, but it's considerable nonetheless.
"Countywide, we have close to 2,000 participants, including about 1,000 in Key West," Rittel said. "Mostly, they're people who come down to work in the hotels and restaurants. A lot of them don't even stay down here because of the cost of living. We don't get a lot of young families moving here expecting to find good jobs."
Christopher Tittel, public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, stressed the importance of the program to the general well-being of mothers and their children.
"Proper nutrition is so important to physical and mental health," Tittel said. "It's particularly important to infants and children, who rely on supplies of healthy foods for proper growth and development. WIC helps ensure that no mother on limited income has to worry about where her child's next meal is coming from."
Rittel said she's been receiving numerous inquiries regarding the state of the program since the shutdown began.
"There's been a lot of rumors about WIC flying around these days," she said. "But we're not closing just yet. Once we're out of money, we're out of money, though. We'll get the word out the minute we know anything."
For information on the WIC program, call 305-289-2718.