Sedgwick County Commissioners have approved $1.9 million in grants for the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). The funding is provided by the federal government and is administered through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The WIC program helps low-income mothers access nutritious food, provides referrals to local community and health agencies and provides free breastfeeding support and education. It serves roughly 11,000 women and children in Sedgwick County each month.
The amount, approved by a 3-2 vote, is roughly $320,000 less than the grant was actually worth.
Citing a recent decline in WIC participants that coincides with an increase in employees with the program, the commission’s majority voted to accept only a portion of the grant, saying the full amount wasn’t needed.
Commissioner Richard Ranzau said he feels breastfeeding support also isn’t needed, and although it was not approved, motioned to eliminate the county’s breastfeeding counselor positions all together.
Commissioners Tim Norton and Dave Unruh voted against the changes, saying they felt the county should accept the roughly $2.26 million that’s available.
Unruh said the Sedgwick County Health Department is already being asked to do more with less--referring to recent county budget cuts.
“I’m pretty confident our department heads and our staff work hard to try and be as efficient as they can,” Unruh said.
Unruh added that the grant funding isn’t given in a lump sum, and that the county can only spend an amount that is verified by the number of participants.
The commission spoke at length about the WIC program in relation to undocumented immigrants. Commissioner Ranzau stated that because the county doesn’t verify the citizenship status of those who sign up for WIC, individuals who are here illegally could be abusing the system.
“This is a welfare program under the guise of a health program,” Ranzau said. “Should the hardworking citizens of this county, state and country be forced to subsidize illegal immigration?”
Commissioner Unruh took issue with this idea, asking if the county would support verifying someone’s citizenship status before an ambulance or fire truck is dispatched.
Commissioner Karl Peterjohn agreed with Ranzau and added that even legal immigrants—like Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who detonated bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing six people and injuring hundreds more—have come to U.S. and benefited from government programs.
Commissioner Jim Howell was also concerned about undocumented immigrants utilizing the WIC program, but said the ability to turn away people would have to be granted at the state level.
The commission agreed to have future discussions over this concern.
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