$95 billion more for war, but NO to $1 billion to feed 2 million families?

Following the passage of a $95 billion foreign aid package that includes funding for Israel’s relentless assault on Gaza, economists and policy experts this week are expressing alarm over the failure of the U.S. Congress to ensure a federal program for low-income parents and their babies is fully funded—a gap that could leave 2 million children and parents without sufficient food.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has never turned away eligible families in its 50-year history, but analysts say that with Congress deadlocked over whether to fully fund the program, states may soon be forced to place up to 2 million families on waiting lists—”jeopardizing access to this highly effective program during an important window for child development,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in December.

The program, which has been linked to a decrease in infant and maternal mortality in the past five decades, is currently being funded by a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that Congress passed in January to keep the government running until early March.

While lawmakers have not agreed on funding for WIC, which is estimated to cost $6.3 billion in 2024 and faces a $1 billion shortfall, the Senate on Tuesday did pass the $95 billion foreign aid package, including $14.1 billion for Israel.

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 28,000 people since October, including more than 12,000 children.

The Senate’s 70-29 bipartisan vote in favor of the package, wrote defense analyst William Hartung of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, “lays bare the skewed priorities of the federal government.”

“Despite deep divisions, it is possible to get bipartisan support for a package that mostly involves funding weapons exports,” Hartung wrote at Forbes on Wednesday. “Don’t expect any such emergency measure to address record levels of homelessness, or aid the 1 in 6 American children living in poverty, or accelerate investments in curbing the climate crisis. In the view of the administration and a majority of members of Congress, some emergencies count more than others.”

At the Institute for Policy Studies, National Priorities Project director Lindsay Koshgarian pointed to WIC as a prime example of the kind of program the federal government should be prioritizing over military aid for Israel, which has garnered growing condemnation from U.S. allies for its indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

“There’s huge discrepancies in where the resources are going,” Koshgarian toldAl Jazeera on Wednesday. “It’s an incredibly important program, there are many families that have depended on it. $1 billion to make up the shortfall would be easy to come up with.”

Last week, Democrats on the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee warned congressional leaders that they must ensure full funding for WIC, which “currently serves over half of all infants born in the country and continues to be a lifesaving nutrition intervention program that minimizes avoidable health and developmental issues for low-income, nutritionally at-risk women, infants, and children.”

“To prevent any disruption to a program that is crucial to supporting new parents and young children, it is vital that WIC is fully funded and continues to align with projected participation and food costs,” wrote the lawmakers.

The 19threported last month that state WIC agencies are currently spending money “assuming the needed funds will eventually be appropriated.”

“By early March,” wrote journalist Amanda Becker, “the fiscal year will already be half over, so there will be a shorter window of time to make up any budget shortfall, potentially leading to more people being waitlisted en masse than if the shortfall was spread across a full fiscal year.”

At Forbes, Hartung called on the federal government to “put less emphasis on war planning and military buildups and more on reassurance and dialogue designed to set clear rules of the road and avoid a conflict.”

“If peace in the Middle East is truly a goal of this administration,” he wrote, “a radical shift in priorities is urgently needed.”

From Common Dreams.