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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Skepticism Surrounds Cook County's Plan For The WIC Program :Illinois: April 2011

News that Cook County's plan to forgo pursuing a contract renewal to provide health care services for those in the federal Women, Infant, and Children program (WIC) is raising some eyebrows and stirring up a great deal of questions. Chief among them is why other alternatives for cost savings were not pursued before the decision was made, primarily by Cook County Department of Health's Chief Operating Officer Stephen Martin, to shut the program down altogether.

A spokesperson for the county's department of health said the move was made because costs were exceeding revenues and there's an ordinance on the books mandating that all program budgets associated with grants be in the black. The official went on to say that he was unclear as to whether the county is permitted to reduce their caseload in order to remain within the $3 million annual budget. Meanwhile, union officials are calling foul on the decision, with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 31 leading the way. The union is set to lose 70 jobs if the county moves forward with the plan to stop providing WIC services.

Another burning question is how the changes will affect the 20,000 WIC recipients that utilize the county's services. While county officials say the services will continue to be available to current users, there is skepticism about how the referral system will work and whether WIC recipients will be properly directed to the social service agencies that are set to take over for the Department of Health. AFSCME's Executive Director, Henry Bayer, pointed out this concern in a letter to county commissioners earlier this week.

Ending the program has repercussions beyond just the families it serves. There is a synergistic relationship between Cook County WIC and Cook County health care services — which serves to improve health care outcomes for program participants. Women come to WIC to obtain food benefits, but then are referred into the County health system. In fact, studies show an important benefit of WIC is that it provides a gateway to healthcare for participants. Referrals work the other way as well, and clients getting health are services at the County find it easy to apply for WIC.

The county's contract to provide services for those in the WIC program ends on June 30.

Progressive Illinois post

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