Archive for Thursday, June 29, 2006

Grocery store discontinues WIC program

June 29, 2006

In the past, area residents who participated in the WIC program could redeem their vouchers at B&J Country Mart.

However, last month, the Tonganoxie grocery store stopped accepting the vouchers.

This affects about 60 Tonganoxie-area families that participate in the WIC program. WIC, which stands for "Women, Infants and Children" is a supplemental food program that provides vouchers for basic nutritional items, such as milk, juice, eggs, cheese, beans and cereals.

Families who have children up to age 5 and who meet WIC income guidelines may qualify. The federal program is administered by states.

Now that B&J no longer is participating in WIC, the nearest stores that accept the program's coupons are in Bonner Springs, De Soto, Lawrence and Leavenworth.

And, according to three Tonganoxie WIC mothers who agreed to speak on the condition their last names not be used, this will pose a hardship.

Jennifer and her husband have two preschool-aged children. Her husband has a full-time job. She baby-sits during the day. And because she doesn't always have access to a car, she often relies on a relative for transportation. The lack of a Tonganoxie WIC store will cause a hardship for her.

"I think it's ridiculous that you have to drive that far, especially with the gas prices," Jennifer said.

Wendy, another WIC mother, and her husband have four children, the youngest of whom is 1.

Until her fourth child was born, she worked full time. But with increased child-care expenses and rising gasoline prices, the family decided Wendy should stay home for a few years. With only her husband's income to rely on, every penny counts.

Helps with basics

"It makes it a lot easier to keep milk in the house," Wendy said of WIC.

Wendy's family receives no other assistance.

"The only help that we do get is the WIC program," Wendy said. "We don't qualify for anything else. We don't qualify for food stamps or anything."

Another mother who uses the WIC program is Bobbi Jo, who said, "My biggest thing is time and gas money."

She said she baby-sits during the day and, after her husband comes home from his job in the evening, she works at a Tonganoxie business.

"I think it's almost not even worth it," Bobbi Jo said of the time and expense of driving out of town for WIC. "Now we have to go all the way to Bonner Springs or Leavenworth to get WIC."

The WIC program has been very helpful to her family, which includes three children, the youngest of whom is almost 2.

"Mainly the cereal and milk, the kids love the juice and love the cheese, the eggs, everything," Bobbi Jo said. "We eat it all. It's just been wonderful."

Supplemental program

According to Karen Savage, WIC coordinator for Leavenworth County, the 26-year-old WIC program isn't intended to provide for all of a family's grocery needs.

"It's a supplemental program," Savage said, noting most families receive vouchers for about $50 a month. To qualify, families must meet WIC's income criteria, which is 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

For instance, a single person cannot make more than $1,511 a month to qualify for WIC. And a family of four cannot make more than $3,084 a month.

Savage said she was surprised to learn B&J had stopped participating in the program. In April, Savage said, B&J served 61 of the county's 947 WIC clients.

But that, she said, is a thing of the past. And, she said, it's going to make life more difficult for WIC users.

"It is a hardship for our people in Tonganoxie and Linwood," Savage said. "If they would go to De Soto, that was going to be in excess of 18 miles for them to travel," Savage said. "If they go to Bonner Springs, it's a minimum of 16.5 miles from their house. In order for them to be eligible with us they have to be financially eligible and then with gas going up, it's an increased hardship on them. A lot of our WIC clients live from paycheck to paycheck to begin with."

When contacted, a B&J official declined to say why the store was no longer a WIC program participant.

"I know it probably does take a lot of extra paperwork in order to be in the program," Savage said about stores that participate in WIC.

And Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokesman Mike Heideman said he was aware of B&J's decision.

"We always do everything we can to try and help stores stay with the WIC program," Heideman said.

"... We regret that there's no longer a place for people in Tonganoxie to go to have these services."

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