Budget Crisis Avoided, But What About the Babies? Can They Live With $504 Million Less in Funding?

This post was authored by Jason Penn and posted to The Eye Opener on April 20th, 2011.

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Let’s start here:  The Federal Government Shutdown has been avoided.  Federal workers and government contractors that depend on a functioning federal government can breathe a deep sigh of relief.  As the hysteria subsides and we return to business as usual, we should ask ourselves – “Are we really returning to business as usual?”  When it comes to your health and more specifically, the healthcare that you and your baby receive, the answer very well may be a resounding “NO.”

How It All Happened

I suppose I should set the stage for you, in case you missed the hand-wringing and other hysterics.  The two houses of Congress are divided.  As is par for the course, Democrats profess that one course of action is correct and Republicans declare that another course is more appropriate.  A budget needs to be in place for the government to function, yet the two political parties couldn’t come to an agreement.  A shutdown of the federal government was promised if a compromise was not reached.  The American public held its breath—or protested.  At the 11th hour, cuts were made, backroom deals were struck, and Washington spoke:  there will be $38 billion dollars trimmed from the federal budget.  On a positive note, federal agencies will remain operational until the end of September. Reason to cheer? Maybe. Before we break out the party hats and noise makers, let’s take a look at how healthcare fared.  The following areas are among those cut:

-         Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC):  $504 million

-         Community Health Centers:  $600 million

-         Substantance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration:  $45 million

-         Infectious Disease prevention:  $277 million

Total:  $1.426 Billion.  Yes, billion, with a “B”!

WIC, Babies, Community Health & Death

Women, Infants and Children, otherwise known as WIC, is a program that provides food for poor women and children up to the age of five.  WIC’s mission statement is “to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5, who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.” WIC gives targeted nutritional supplementation to help prevent birth defects and developmental problems caused by malnutrition.  It also provides information on healthy foods and referrals for medical care, according to the program’s website.

The WIC program gave out about $7 billion in food grants to states in 2010. There were nearly 8.9 million households receiving WIC benefits at the end of 2010, according to the Department of Agriculture. Locally, on an annual basis, Maryland WIC serves over 130,000 women, infants and children each month.  More than 151,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and toddlers benefit from the program in Virginia.  Despite the number of women, infants and children assisted by the program, the recent budget compromise promises to slash $504 million in funding. The startling aspect is the number of women and children that are eligible but for one reason or another are not enrolled in the program. There is an estimated 43 percent of women and children, who are eligible for benefits but aren’t receiving them.  The cuts to funding will effectively foreclose their opportunity to receive benefits. At risk and in need, they will have to look elsewhere.  Sadly, many will not.

In addition to the significant cuts to WIC’s budget, the budget for community health centers would drop by about $600 million, affecting access to basic health services for approximately 5 million low-income Americans, according to the National Association for Community Health Centers. By 2015, according to NACHC, the reduction could undermine health centers’ capacity to provide services to 40 million people.

But what does it mean?

It is 2011.  My computer, cell phone and other gadgets all confirm that we are soundly within the confines of the 21st century. While we can certainly live with the fact that automobiles do not take flight a la The Jetsons, what is troubling is that we are continuing to battle fetal death in the United States.  Around 2.6 million babies are born with no signs of life after 28 weeks’ gestation – which defines a stillbirth. Undoubtedly, most of these stillbirths take place in developing countries.  Nonetheless, in the world’s wealthiest nations around 1 in every 300 babies are stillborn.  In 2005, data from the National Vital Statistics Report showed a US national average stillbirth rate of 6.2 per 1000 births. In fact, of the world’s most advanced economies, the United States has the highest infant mortality rate.  In Maryland, a preliminary report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) shows that Maryland’s infant mortality rate is 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

The major causes of stillbirths—complications during labor, maternal infections, hypertension, diabetes, and fetal growth restriction—aren’t too different from the major causes of maternal or neonatal deaths. Among the most fundamental ways to prevent stillbirths and fetal death is to improve basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care. Providing pregnant women folic acid supplements, preventing disease, and improved detection and management of infection during pregnancy are simple ways to ensure babies are born healthy.

According to WIC, numerous studies have shown that pregnant women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; have fewer low birth-weight babies; experience fewer fetal and infant deaths; seek prenatal care earlier in pregnancy and consume more of such key nutrients as iron, protein, calcium and vitamin C. That being said, the budget negotiations resulted in drastic cuts to a program effective at reducing harm to the nation’s most vulnerable?  Oh, boy.

With the exception of a short stint as a student legislator in high school and college, I do not have meaningful experience in the political arena.  I will not pretend to have significant insight into what it takes to balance a federal budget.  As a lay person, what I can do is look at the statistics and read the reports.  The numbers and reports tell me that in the 21st century America, a scary number of its children are being harmed by the preventable.  On top of that, the funding—the lifeblood—that sustains the programs aimed at reducing the problem just took a devastating blow. Will the programs designed to help our most vulnerable continue to operate? We can only hope.   At least, for the sake of the children. So please excuse me if I don’t put on my party hat and celebrate the $38 billion in budget cuts. I haven’t found a cause for celebration just yet.

Agree or disagree? That’s why the comment section is below. Let me know if you have your party shoes on.

 

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5 Responses to “Budget Crisis Avoided, But What About the Babies? Can They Live With $504 Million Less in Funding?”

  1. RachelNo Gravatar says:

    No party shoes for me! I think you hit the nail on the head, so to speak, with your point that many children are being harmed by preventable complications, diseases, etc. Cutting WIC and other health programs providing preventative care now will likely result in increased spending down the road for much more costly conditions. Not to mention that out of other developed nations the U.S. ranks the worst in infant mortality. It’s a sad state of affairs if you ask me.

  2. TheresaNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t believe that anyone could honestly think that the children should suffer; the children never had a choice regarding being brought into this world. This whole issue, though, has a much darker side to it. We live in a society where sexual relations are as common as changing one’s underwear! We have children having children. Not only are their bodies not mature enough to handle the stress of pregnancy, many are not mature enough to handle the stress of child-rearing…..the day-to-day demands that require a commitment. These children cannot commit to a partner to serve as a full-time parent in order to share the responsibilities of child-rearing. Grandparents are often left with the responsibility of raising grandchildren, often times while they themselves are widowed or divorced.
    Then, one can tack on the overwhelmed Foster Care system. You have to question why these children end up in this kind of situation….the ever-revolving door of next home, next parent, next school district, next set of friends, etc. The lack of any firm foundation leaves everlasting scars on these children
    Next, let’s look at the number of drug addicts and alcoholics who are having babies. Sex-for-drugs is common practice, even in our younger population. Protection? What’s that? We know that these behaviors lead to all of the common pathologic problems mentioned in this blog that lead to premature delivery, intra-uterine growth retardation, fetal-alcohol syndrome, chorioamnionitis, etc.!
    I will not even start the discussion regarding illegal immigration, but I would like to see some statistics on how many illegal immigrants are receiving these benefits.
    So, my bottom line is that the whole system is broken! Cut funding to programs that are going to affect innocent children? NO WAY! Some money, however, needs to be spent in more pro-active ways……educating the young, perhaps even offering grants for education to those who do not get pregnant before a certain age. I do not profess to know what the answers are, but these are serious social issues that are going to continue to affect an already-broken system. And spending cuts are NOT the answer as outlined!

  3. TracyNo Gravatar says:

    As usual, the politicians choose to cut from those least likey to vote or donate to their campaign. It is disappointing and outrageous that our country cannot or will not take care of its citizens.

  4. JRNo Gravatar says:

    The bottomless budget hole that needs to be immediately ended,is the endless wars in Iraq and Afganastan.
    All it has done,is show that the U.S. Government is just as brutal and ruthless as Hitler’s Germany and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Few people much older than kindergarten,seriously believe that the purpose of the Iraq invasion,was to transform it into a wonderful democracy. It was a huge boon in profit,to Dick Cheney’s Haliburton and the oil companies involving the Bushes.

  5. Why don’t they cut the funding to Hezbollah in Lebanon which we doubled after Israel had to destroy Lebanon for agression?

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