AS part of his health program President Clinton has put a priority on full funding for a federal program that helps over 40 percent of the infants born in the United States.
The president wants full funding - funds enough for all those eligible - for the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The US House of Representatives has already authorized $3.2 billion for the program. WIC has provided nutritious food and nutrition education for millions of low- and moderate-income pregnant women, mothers, and children since 1972.
WIC's positive results are widely acknowledged, even earning tacit recognition from decidedly conservative observers opposed to some aspects of welfare programs. "Some of WIC's claims for pregnant women and children are true," says Robert Rector, senior policy analyst for welfare at the Heritage Foundation. "The benefits do outweigh the costs, but wanting to fund the program up into the middle class is preposterous."
Illinois Rep. Richard Durbin (D), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, has said in Congress that WIC "may be the most successful single program administered by the US Department of Agriculture or perhaps the federal government."
"Over 40 percent of the infants born in the US are on the WIC program," says Clara French, a food program specialist for the US Department of Agriculture, "and 1 in 4 new mothers participates." Average monthly participation in the program in March of l993 was 5.7 million women and children. In 1992 an estimated 8.6 million women and children were eligible.
This high level of participation stems from two factors: the increased level of poverty among children and single mothers in the US since 1972, and the effectiveness of the WIC program.
ACCORDING to studies done by the Department of Agriculture for Congress, WIC reduces infant mortality and the rates of low birthweights. "There are fewer premature births," says Mary Kassler, director of the Massachusetts WIC program and president of the National WIC Association, "and children have better overall health and nutrition. …