FLINT, Mich., Feb. 10, 2016 – As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ongoing efforts to support residents in Flint, Mich., Dr. Kathryn Wilson, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services today announced that USDA will temporarily allow Michigan to use WIC funds to conduct lead testing for WIC participants. An estimated 3,800 WIC participants could potentially be tested as a result of this action.
The announcement came as Wilson visited a WIC clinic and elementary school in Michigan to discuss how residents can access USDA programs to help mitigate the ill effects of the city's water crisis on their health and wellbeing. USDA is supporting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the state and local governments in providing relief to those affected by the water contamination.
Wilson also announced two measures to expand access to healthy foods that could mitigate the impacts of lead on children. In the affected Flint area, at least 28 schools, serving over 144,000 students, are eligible to adopt a program known as the Community Eligibility Provision that ensures universal access to school meals for all children in the school. CEP is targeted at high-poverty schools and has proven successful in ensuring more kids benefit from nutritious school meals. USDA will work in collaboration with Michigan to help as many eligible schools as possible adopt this provision.
In addition, Wilson announced that USDA recently expanded eligibility for the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for Children program to include areas experiencing extreme circumstances, such as Flint. Priority for expanding summer EBT was previously focused solely on rural areas. The program delivers EBT nutrition assistance benefits to families who have children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. These benefits provide families with needed assistance in purchasing healthy foods for their children in the summer months when school meals are not served. Michigan must submit an initial application by Friday for Flint to participate in the program.
"The programs of the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service are there to help because they're a vital source of nutrition for children, infants, and adults," said Wilson. "Our goal is simple: to encourage folks to maximize the healthy foods they have available in order to mitigate the effects of lead. We're working in partnership with other federal agencies to make every possible resource available to help. We encourage people affected by this crisis to visit the local health department to find out what nutrition programs they may be eligible for that could help."
FNS has been working with state agencies in Michigan to address the lead crisis since September 2015. The agency has been working closely with the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) to address the effects of the crisis through the school meals programs, and with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to provide assistance through the WIC program. Some of the most recent actions include:
- On January 25, FNS approved the state's request for $62,700 in additional funding to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to more eligible schools, providing additional fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost to students. The additional funding, along with practical technical assistance on menu planning strategies, is designed to aid schools in identifying and incorporating more foods high in vitamin C, calcium, and iron that can help reduce lead levels in the body.
- Mothers of formula-fed infants participating in WIC have been given the option to receive ready-to-feed formula instead of the standard powdered formula. In addition, the 7,585 Flint residents participating in the WIC program (including 1,527 women, 1,792 infants, and 4,266 children) are being offered water filters, and other supportive services.
- FNS is also currently working with the state on a request for additional support through USDA Foods, to provide targeted items that could aid in mitigating the effects of lead absorption, via Disaster Household Distribution through The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
- Through its Child and Adult Care Food Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program nutrition education, and its support for food banks, FNS is leveraging partnerships with community-based organizations and farmers markets to increase nutrition education efforts on how healthy food may help mitigate lead absorption.
For more information about USDA's support for those affected by the Flint lead crisis, please visit our Flint Fact Sheet.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that, together, comprise America's nutrition safety net. They include school lunch and breakfast, WIC, TEFAP, CNAP, CACFP, summer meals programs, and more.