Lehigh Valley

Sen. Casey urges extending WIC assistance for kids until age 6 to address preschool gap

LEHIGH VALLEY, Pa. - Thousands of children in the Lehigh Valley get nutrition assistance through the WIC program, but some are being left out and going hungry, all because of when their birthday falls.

Jessica Cruz is a mom of two, a three-year old and a five-year-old. When she first got pregnant she got help from WIC, Women Infants and Children, including assistance from the nutrition assistance program.

Now she works there.

"We've had people actually write into the WIC office and send letters, thanking us for the benefits,"  Cruz said.

Cruz recently felt the pinch of a WIC loophole.

"I didn't even think the age difference would make a big difference, but it did. Even for me," Cruz said.

Kids don't qualify for WIC after age five. That's supposed to sync up with when they start kindergarten and get school breakfast and lunch.

However, Jessica's son turned five in October, and he can't start school until August. She's not alone.

"Parents ask, I don't know what I'm going to do after that," Cruz said.

"No child should be placed at a nutritional disadvantage simply because of when their birthday falls," State Sen. Bob Casey said.

Casey is working on legislation that would allow WIC assistance through age six. 

Casey's office estimates that about 25% of all kids start kindergarten after they're five and a half years old and have household incomes that fall nearly 200 percent under the federal poverty line.

"This bill would be worth passing if it affected a very small percentage of families," Casey said.

Casey is still working on finding co sponsors-and a good social media campaign.

"Close the gap would be a damn good hashtag if we need one," Casey said.

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