(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, alerting him to a proposal to close the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office on base at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI). The on-base WIC office serves roughly 800 servicemembers and dependents who qualify for assistance. The closure would not only hinder their access to the federal nutrition program, it would also force the nearest off-base office to absorb a 100 percent increase in new clients, causing further reduced access in the surrounding communities. In the letter, Senator Murray wrote, “…as someone who has fought for years to increase families’ access to WIC, I find it absolutely unacceptable to impose any new barriers to this critically important program. It is especially troubling to see a proposal that would create obstacles for any servicemember or military family who needs and so deeply deserves our support.” Murray asked Secretary Carter to make sure the Department of Defense arranges long-term space for the WIC office on NASWI in order to protect the confidentiality of client records. Each year, the WIC program helps millions of women, infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk by offering supplemental food, nutrition counseling, and health care referrals. The full text of the letter is below.
May 13, 2015
The Honorable Ashton B. Carter
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Carter:
I write to express my deep concern regarding the proposed closure of a Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office located on base at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) in my home state of Washington. I continue to hear from constituents on Whidbey Island about the impact the closure of such an important facility will have on servicemembers, their spouses, and their young families and as someone who has fought for years to increase families’ access to WIC, I find it absolutely unacceptable to impose any new barriers to this critically important program. It is especially troubling to see a proposal that would create obstacles for any servicemember or military family who needs and so deeply deserves our support.
If the effort to close the WIC office at NASWI continues, the clinic will be forced to close its doors by September 30, 2015. The office currently serves more than 800 servicemembers and dependents, many of whom seek these benefits because they are unable to make ends meet under their current household incomes. The closure of this facility will mean that many military beneficiaries will have to forgo such services due to the hardships of locating, enrolling in, and traveling to a new WIC office. The nearest off-base WIC office already serves more than 800 clients and does not have the capacity to absorb an additional 800 clients. Both military and civilian families on base or from the surrounding community will be harmed by reduced access. The result of this closure is unacceptable, as hundreds of low-income military families in my home state will no longer benefit from this vital form of assistance.
I am also concerned that the effort to close the WIC office at NASWI seems to be directly opposed to the Department’s stated policy in DODI 1000.15 that “the Department recognizes that non-Federal entity support of Service members and their families can be important to their welfare,” and with the Secretary of Defense Memorandum Installation Access and Support Services for Nonprofit Non-Federal Entities of December 23, 2014.
The WIC program is a Federal program that provides supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, as well as infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. In 2014, this critical program helped more than eight million low-income women, infants, and children across the United States and it is one of the best investments our country can make to help low-income children get a healthy start to life. As our country experiences wage stagnation and growing income equality, we should be looking for ways to help low-income families succeed, not making it even more difficult. I am afraid the proposal to close the WIC office at NASWI does the latter.
I know you agree our servicemembers have sacrificed much for our nation. It is deeply troubling that many military families have to rely on a program to provide supplemental healthy foods in the first place. I urge you to protect the on base WIC office at NASWI, including arranging long-term space for the office to operate and secure the confidentiality of their client records. In addition, the Department must ensure all policies take into account the important services that programs such as WIC provide and that installation commanders take all necessary steps to facilitate servicemembers’ access to these critical programs.
Thank you for your service and all you do for our men and women in uniform. I look forward to your response and to working with you on improving access to beneficial services like WIC for military families.
United States Senator