The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, remains open during the government shutdown, for now. Photo by Lynne Shallcross

It will be several weeks before a federal nutrition program that low-income families rely on will be endangered by the government’s shutdown, according to Eileen Shields, public information officer for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“We really aren’t going to have any immediate effects,” Shields said.

Shields’ view differed in tone from news coming out of Mayor Ed Lee’s office on Monday. “Locally, Congress’ inability to act means that our lowest income residents could lose full access to critical services,” the statement from the mayor’s office said, adding that among those services are the subsidized food and nutrition programs that serve 31,000 of the city’s families.

Shields said, however, that it would take several weeks before the department would run into trouble keeping afloat any of the Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health programs, of which the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is a part.

Many of those families are in the Mission District and others come to the Mission for services.

Yvonne Harrison, 30, who has three young children — 5, 3 and 2 months old — said she’s able to buy the milk, fruit, eggs and other essentials her family needs through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

“It’s a big deal in my life,” Harrison said. “That’s what I depend on.”

“The program is needed because a lot of mothers can’t afford to buy their kids milk,” added 26-year-old Chandral Cobb, whose 7-month-old was born premature and needs a special kind of milk. “WIC is very important.”

It is unclear what would happen if the government’s shutdown goes on longer than two weeks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the nutrition program, announced in a memo on Friday that a shutdown would mean that no additional funds would be available for the supplemental nutrition program’s clinical services, food benefits or administrative costs. “States may have some funds available…to continue operations for a week or so, but states would likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period,” the memo stated.

The Department of Agriculture also oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, and the Child Nutrition Programs, including school breakfast and lunch. In its Friday memo, the department said both programs would continue operations into October.

Lynne Shallcross

Lynne Shallcross was stressed and tired after walking three miles without finding an open community clinic. “Is this what it's like for Mission residents who work full-time?” she wondered. Having walked...

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