For the first time in six years, a federal nutrition program for low-income women and children may have to turn away several thousand New Yorkers.

According to a study released last week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank, rising unemployment and shrinking funds for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) could force the program to turn away about 345,000 eligible applicants during fiscal year 2002. The Senate appropriations committee has called for $4.2 billion and the House $4.1 billion. Last year, WIC was funded at $4.5 billion.

In New York, which receives around 6 percent of the federal WIC funds, even the senate’s more generous package would leave more than 10,000 eligible women and children without nutrition support, said the CBPP. What could be worse, these estimates are based on a 4.9 percent unemployment rate, which some analysts call unrealistic given that rates in New York City have jumped from 5.8 percent to 6.3 percent since September 11. “We’ll see [the caseload] begin to pick up by January,” said Douglas Greenaway, executive director of the National Association of WIC Directors.

Still, all hope is not lost on increasing WIC funding. Given the terrorist attacks, “There could be strong support for more money for WIC due to increasing unemployment, and we are hopeful WIC will get more than the Senate level,” said Stefan Harvey, WIC project director at CBPP, which, along with NAWD, has called for $4.38 billion for the program.

Trying to drive the point home further, State Assemblymember Deborah Glick, chair of the social services committee, is lobbying congressional delegations for 5 to 15 percent increases in funding for several social service programs, including WIC. “After September 11,” she said, “now we know we need support for these programs.”

The senate is scheduled to vote on the appropriations bill within the next few weeks.