The federal government shutdown has predictably attracted a lot of media attention. Much of the reporting has focused on how the shutdown affects government workers and their families, businesses located near national parks and monuments, and individuals who rely on assistance programs to make ends meet.
While families and small business owners may be hardest hit by the shutdown, major retailers and suppliers won’t escape the consequences of a deeply challenged economy, particularly if their target market includes individuals who’ve lost a significant amount of their employment or benefit income.
One program that will lose its funding during the shutdown is the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC). WIC provides low income pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, as well as children under the age of five, with supplementary food assistance.
WIC families use paper vouchers or electronic benefits cards to purchase nutritious foods, which include infant formula, milk, fruits, vegetables, beans, peanut butter, juice and cereal. The program also provides nutritional counseling and breastfeeding education for its clients. Like the SNAP (i.e. food stamps) program, WIC clients can redeem their benefits at participating stores and supermarkets. Unlike SNAP, the WIC program tightly regulates the food types and brands that can be purchased with program benefits.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “WIC serves 53 percent of all infants born in the United States.” Not surprisingly, many Walmart stores participate in the WIC program by stocking approved foods and accepting WIC payments.
The Diaper Dilemma
Government nutrition programs such as WIC and SNAP (i.e. food stamps) do not cover the cost of diapers. Parents who rely on government benefits must either purchase diapers with their own money or rely on diapers supplied by a local diaper bank.
Parents of children in diapers will be faced with difficult choices after the suspension of WIC benefits. Daycare programs require parents to provide diapers for their children. Without childcare, parents can’t go to work. Low income working parents may have to decide between feeding their families and buying diapers. If the shutdown continues, families that rely on suspended assistance programs will face severe economic, social and health consequences as a .
Consequences for Suppliers
If the shutdown doesn’t last too long, retailers and suppliers are unlikely to be greatly affected. But if the shutdown continues, Walmart and other discount stores, along with their suppliers, are going to lose sales as WIC families turn to food banks and soup kitchens to get the food that their family needs. Families that do use their own funds to buy food may be forced to cut down on their purchases of disposable diapers, wipes, trash bags and other essential household items.
The shutdown, and the people it affects, is something that we all need to pay attention to.