Catt. Co. Board of Health unclear on WIC funding, other fed programs

OLEAN – With the federal government shutdown in full effect, Cattaraugus County health officials are keeping an eye on what is going to happen to the funding coming in to the Women, Infant and Children program, also known as WIC.

As of Wednesday, the federal guidance on the program – as it came in to the members of the county board of health – was not promising. According to Dr. Kevin Watkins, Public Health director, no additional funds will be available through the federal government for special supplemental programs. That could create concerns, he said.

Watkins said the New York State Department of Health has some carryover funds to disseminate to the counties, but it will not be enough to keep operations going if the shutdown continues for an extended period of time.

“We will be continuing our operations as long as we continue to have the funds from the state,” he said. “We do need to develop a contingency plan, should this shutdown continue for an extended period.”

Board member Dr. Gilbert Witte, of the Olean Medical Group, suggested looking into use of the County Contingency Funds in the budget to fill the gaps that may occur in the program.

The Cattaraugus County Health Department serves several thousand clients each year with an operating budget of about $40,000 a month. Of the nine employees in the department, only three are county employees. The remaining six are contractors.

Watkins said the direction from the state health department is to continue operations as normal, without interruption.

Other areas of service in the county may be affected as the shutdown continues for a prolonged period, Watkins told the members of the board. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be able to support the annual influenza programs, technical support on HIV, Tuberculosis and STD testing will not be available, and some interruption in disaster preparedness services is expected.

Watkins said the federal Department of Health and Human Services has expressed the desire to maintain a minimal level of readiness and staffing for hazard preparations, but that level was not defined.

As the shutdown continues, Watkins said he and his staff would monitor the situation.

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