Participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 15 domestic food and nutrition assistance programs declined from fiscal year 2017 to 2018, according to an annual report released by the federal agency.
Two of the agency's largest programs saw nominal increases in spending, the report stated. However, they were far outweighed by significant cuts in the biggest programs.
Some of the declines in participation and spending are reflected in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provided locally by the Cole County Health Department.
The USDA spent $96.1 billion on the programs during the year, a little more than two-thirds of its budget, according to the report, which examines trends in the programs. The report also incorporates two Economic Research Service reports — one of which looks at trends in food insecurity through 2017. The other estimates the economic impact of increased breast feeding by WIC participants.
Like the national trend, the Cole County WIC program has seen smaller numbers of participants over the past decade, said Melinda Ridenhour, the county director of nutrition services and WIC coordinator.
"There's been a steady decline in participation since 2009," Ridenhour said.
Health care workers believe several factors have an effect on the volume of participants.
Potential participants may be affected by difficulty overcoming transportation issues, trouble finding products covered by the programs, concerns about a stigma associated with using the program or even a lack of time necessary for meeting appointments.
"Families are trying to manage a lot of things in their lives," Ridenhour said. "We're over-committed at times. And if people miss their (WIC) appointments, and we don't actively reach out to them to remind them, they forget about the program."
Nationally in 2017, 7.3 million people participated in WIC each month, according to the report. The number of people fell to 6.9 million per month in 2018 — a 5.7 percent decline.
Cole County held year-to-year a little more than the nation. In Cole County in 2017, an average of 1,531 people participated in WIC each month, according to data provided by the health department. The average fell to 1,449 per month in 2018 — a 5.5 percent decline.
The rate at which the number of participants is declining in the county has slowed of late, Ridenhour said.
Part of that is because the county has been actively reaching out to people who qualify for the program, she said.
"We have the big baby shower event at the end of the month," she said. "It will include learning sessions, health groups and lots of great prizes."
The Cole County Baby Shower is 9 a.m.-noon Saturday at the Cole County Health Department, 3400 W. Truman Blvd.
Limited seating is available.
Although pre-registration is not necessary, new and expecting moms wishing to participate are asked to do so before Thursday, by calling 573-636-2181, Ext. 2.
The event will include prizes, health booths, resources, learning session, availability to resources, giveaways and more.
The country's five largest food and nutrition assistance programs in 2018 — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch Program, WIC, School Breakfast Program, and Child and Adult Care Food Program — accounted for 96 percent of USDA expenditures on domestic food and nutrition assistance.
The expenditures fell substantially for WIC (5.7 percent as previously reported) and SNAP (4.3 percent).
School Lunch fell about 0.9 percent (average daily spending fell from $30 million to $29.7 million).
National spending increased about 1.9 percent for Child and Adult Care Food — from approximately $3.5 billion to $3.6 billion. However, the number of meals served decreased from about 2.05 billion to 2.04 billion.
Spending also increased for the School Breakfast Program (by 0.2 percent).
The Missouri Department of Social Services makes available on its website data concerning the number of people it serves and the money spent for services.
On average, some 745,983 people in the state received SNAP benefits each month in Missouri in 2018 — 7,951 people in Cole County.