Local services for moms, kids could disappear

Local mothers and babies are in danger of losing crucial services due to a steady decline in the flow of dollars to the Women, Infants and Children program.

WIC has been a constant presence in Enumclaw, providing food vouchers and education about proper parenting and nutrition. The program benefits expectant mothers, moms with kids and children up to 5 years of age.

WIC representatives are in Enumclaw every Tuesday, setting up shop in the J.J. Smith building.

But the WIC offerings, which seem universally accepted as beneficial, could disappear from Enumclaw. Budget troubles have prompted Public Health – Seattle and King County to announce the planned closure of several offices, including the Auburn facility. Enumclaw’s WIC office is a satellite operation of the Auburn office and would go away with the Auburn closure.

Local WIC supporters aren’t about to go down without a fight.

Mayor Liz Reynolds has jumped into the fray, requesting a meeting with county officials, and members of the Enumclaw City Council are joining other communities in adopting formal resolutions opposing cuts to the WIC program.

In Enumclaw, Helen Countryman was an early advocate, contacting Reynolds personally and stepping before the council during that group’s Sept. 8 meeting. Countryman is a Public Health nurse and works for King County, but directed her council comments as a private citizen of Enumclaw.

If the local office is shuttered, Countryman pointed out, low-income families will face the prospect of traveling to Kent for WIC offerings. Aside from the decline in health services, she pointed to the economic impact facing local grocery stores when there are fewer vouchers being redeemed. Families qualifying for WIC services receive vouchers good for $400 worth of food monthly.

The numbers aren’t inconsequential, Countryman said, as nearly half the children born in Enumclaw receive WIC services. She also rebuffed the notion that WIC exists only to serve the chronically unemployed. There are plenty of working poor, she said, who qualify for services.

Proposed closures to Public Health offices, along with the WIC impacts, has not escaped legislative notice.

Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, an Enumclaw resident, spoke at the Sept. 8 council meeting, adding her support for keeping the local WIC office operating. Also, Rep. Christopher Hurst provided a letter that was read into the record, adding his support.

The issue moved into sharper focus this week when King County released its 2015 budget, which includes closure of Auburn’s Public Health clinic.