Almost 4,400 women in York County regularly make their way to the state health department office on Heckle Boulevard to collect Women, Infants and Children benefits to feed hungry babies.
Some drive, many walk to the office that is anywhere but close by for most mothers. Some push strollers down a highway that lacks sidewalks.
Stefanie Rayfield, 27, receives WIC to help pay for formula for a baby with severe acid reflux. The special formula costs $28 a can in a store. She gets WIC for a dozen cans a month. If she had to buy formula, that’s $336 a month.
After Oct. 15, when WIC money runs out in South Carolina due to the federal government shutdown, she will receive nothing.
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“If it wasn’t for WIC, I don’t know what I would do,” Rayfield said. “But I have a family. I will make it somehow. I can find a way. What about these single mothers, these women who have nothing and nobody?
“It is those women, those babies I worry about. Those babies will just starve.”
WIC clients were told Wednesday and Thursday at the county health office that because of the shutdown, WIC benefits will end in 10 days because the federal government considers feeding their babies “non-essential.”
Almost 125,000 people in South Carolina receive WIC benefits. About 4,400 in York County. Almost 2,000 in Lancaster County. About 1,100 in Chester County.
“It’s horrible; a lot of parents out here are having a rough time,” said Kelly Devinney, 30, who uses WIC benefits to feed her 1-month-old son. “There are parents who can’t afford formula, or are pregnant.
“Babies will not get milk because of this.”
Devinney urged politicians to “think about others before you think about yourselves.”
“All the innocent children, babies, they have no say so in all of this, but the babies will have to suffer,” Devinney said. “They are starving our children right here in America.”
WIC beneficiaries are generally working women whose income places them below the federal poverty line – poor enough to need help staying healthy and raising a healthy baby.
Without WIC, babies cry in hunger.
The numbers of people who depend on WIC are staggering, yet politicians rarely if ever see the people who make up these numbers because the people are poor.
About 14,500 pregnant women receive WIC in South Carolina, according to DHEC statistics. More than 11,000 women who have recently given birth need WIC.
Almost 6,000 breast-feeding moms in South Carolina depend on WIC.
At least 33,000 infants get enough to eat thanks to WIC.
About 56,500 children in one of the poorest states in America drink milk paid for by WIC.
Those who receive WIC are people straining under the pressure of children and work and trying to make ends meet, trying to smile. They’re in the checkout line at the grocery store, paying for food with a voucher that can be used to buy only specific products.
That voucher is sometimes the difference between a baby eating or not.
That’s what is at stake in this government shutdown.
No South Carolina politician who has had any role in the shutdown has even mentioned WIC. They blame the other party or the media. They try to make a big deal of giving part of their salary that will be paid during the shutdown to charity.
They spew outrage about politics, while the poorest families in this area plan to feed babies on hope and prayers.
Try quieting a hungry newborn with hope and prayer.
The problem in Chester County is more acute than in York County.
Concern is so high in Chester that county supervisor Carlisle Roddey already is looking at how the community can help poor mothers and children if benefits get cut off.
For every one of those 1,100 families in Chester receiving WIC, there is at least one child getting benefits, Roddey said – likely two or three.
“The problem with these people making these decisions, from both parties in this shutdown, is that they know where their next meal is coming from,” Roddey said. “People in Chester County here work hard. They are good people. They aren’t loafers.
“This is about babies getting enough to eat. This shutdown means little children going without milk, food. This means mommas-to-be with a baby on the way not getting enough to eat themselves.”
Chester County’s 11.6 percent unemployment rate is far higher than the state and national averages. Chester’s average family income is about $32,000 – that’s $20,000 less than the national average. One in four people in Chester lives in poverty.
Chester County is one of the poorest counties in the state. Because it is in South Carolina, one of the poorest states in America, that makes the 33,000 people there living in one of the poorest places in America.
“This is just devastating,” said John Williamson, who runs Turning Point food pantry in downtown Chester, which gives out food, formula, diapers, more. “The people we serve already don’t have enough.”
Gelina Jarquin, 22, has a 2-year-old daughter and works and goes to college at the same time. WIC helps people just like her feed kids, she said.
“Cuts in WIC will make it really hard on mothers who have a lot less than I do,” Jarquin said. “What about them? What politician who would cut WIC is looking out for them?”