Government Shutdown Affecting Osage Nation WIC Program

Tuesday, October 1st 2013, 10:44 pm
By: Tess Maune

Women and children first, right? In this case, that's not such a good thing. The shutdown is taking away a vital program to mothers in parts of Green Country.

The "Women, Infant and Children" program is having to make some cuts. The good news is the state's WIC program has sufficient funds to carry it through the next two weeks.

But the Osage Nation program isn't so fortunate. The Chief says their tribe get less funding some of the bigger WIC programs - which means for the first time, mothers and children in Osage County will be turned away.

It's a standard The Osage Nation strives for. The Osage Nation WIC program is first on the first to be affected. It's funded with federal dollars and serves both tribal and non-tribal woman in Osage County, plus Bartlesville.

"We don't turn anybody away," said Principal Chief John Red Eagle. It's a standard Red Eagle said is being stripped with the shutdown of the United States government.

"I didn't really want to make a big issue out of it at first, but it's coming down to this: if the government is not going to start running again - then it's going to affect these programs," Chief Red Eagle said.

9/30/2013 Related Story: Campers Fear Shutdown Will Close Oklahoma Corps Of Engineers Campgrounds

The program offers free formula to eligible women with children less than a year old. About 30 new infants are enrolled each month, but until there's a resolution on Capitol Hill, the tribe said it can't add any new babies to the program.

It said it's supply for infants currently enrolled is running thin. Seven hundred infants get their formula from the Osage Nation. As of now, there's only enough formula on hand for that service to continue on for about six weeks.

The tribe also offers food vouchers to women with children ages1 to 5. The food cost is about $85,000 per month and feeds 1,600 children and 550 women. But that part of the tribe's WIC program was shut down with the government – and will not be available until a budget resolution is reached.

"I know that it just upsets them that they can't provide for their babies," said Aubrey Stiles, cashier. The Pawhuska Hometown Grocery manager said about 25 percent of his customers use WIC vouchers.

Cashier Aubrey Stiles said some Tuesday shoppers came in, in tears.

"All day long, I've heard, there actually have been some women crying and stuff because they can't come in here and get their milk and their eggs and stuff," Stiles said.

Chief Red Eagle said the tribe does have reserve funds, through gaming and tobacco shops, that could help.

"I don't know how long they would last, maybe six months to a year, maybe, If it comes to that we could do that.

The Chief said before the tribe could dip into that money it would need the approval of the Osage Nation Congress. He said he has a meeting schedule with the tribe's treasurer to work out more of the details Wednesday.

"I'll get a better idea of what we really have and how long we can really last without a government, a United States government," he said.

Red Eagle said the tribe's Head Start, Meals On Wheels, Food Distribution and Title Six programs could also see cuts if a resolution isn't made within the next 30 days.