The closing of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office in McKees Rocks is effectively preventing those eligible for this federally funded nutrition program for pregnant women and young children from receiving benefits.
"WIC benefited my son," says McKees Rocks resident Michelle Hart, who got WIC benefits for her toddler until seven months ago, when the WIC office in the basement of the Focus on Renewal building sustained flood damage from Hurricane Ivan. It had served 1,300 clients. "He was born premature and weighed three pounds. [He] has developmental problems. It's too difficult juggling appointments" to keep receiving WIC today, Hart says. "I tried to go to other offices, but is was too hard to get transportation. ... It got very expensive."
The Allegheny County Health Department will not reopen the McKees Rocks WIC office despite requests from recipients and nutrition advocates, who urged Allegheny County Council on June 7 to reopen the office or find another location within McKees Rocks. They fear that many recipients like Hall will drop out of the program.
Kristie Weiland, a community advocate for the anti-hunger group Just Harvest, told Council that "traveling to Downtown has cost WIC clients. From December 2003 to December 2004, WIC's caseload in Allegheny County declined by 739 clients," which overlaps the time of the hurricane, although the number without WIC since September, and the reason they left the WIC rolls, is not known.
Father Regis Ryan, executive director of Focus on Renewal, offered to waive WIC's rent, but the Health Department has refused to move back to FOR's basement, which has been flooded three times in 16 years. Just Harvest is negotiating with two churches in the borough to provide alternative space for WIC.
Joyce Dodge, WIC program manager for the County Health Department, said that the office was closed because of a decline in federal funding in addition to the risk of flooding.
"We don't want to go back to the building. ... We lost $9,000 worth of equipment," Dodge said. "I asked Father Ryan for other space [at FOR]. He said it wasn't available. We've sustained two program cuts this year, one for $73,000 and another for $62,000. The money isn't there."