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Erie County will end role in WIC

Erie County is planning to end its role in the WIC program, the federally sponsored Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, when its current contract runs out Sept. 30.

The program, which handles approximately 16,000 cases each month in Erie County, will continue without county involvement, Grant Loomis, a spokesman for County Executive Chris Collins, said Tuesday.

Operations would be turned over to another provider or be assumed by the state Department of Health, which administers the program.

"We spent a couple months reviewing all the nonmandated services within social services," Loomis explained. "We're trying to better manage all the mandated services and trying to look at situations where you have private services or not-for-profit services. We don't think the county should be competing to provide these services."

County government is not the only provider of the WIC program in Erie County. Kaleida Health offers a program. So does Catholic Charities, which also offers a program in Niagara County.

When the county stops offering the program, some 46 county employees would be idled but might be picked up by a new provider of the service, Loomis said.

One of the county employees, Jeanne Ryan, who works at the WIC program site at 1500 Broadway, said employees learned of the decision late Tuesday.

"It seems like a silly program to pick on to save a little bit of money," she said.

Most of the program costs are reimbursed by the federal government. But health care for those employees when they retire -- a benefit provided by the county -- is not included.

In a letter Monday to Sheila Kee, the top state Health Department official in Western New York, Catholic Charities CEO Dennis Walczyk said that his agency would like to submit a proposal.

"It's not as though these services are going away," Loomis said. "The state has an obligation to provide these services. This administration has decided not to continue with the contract."

Last summer, the Collins administration tried to consolidate WIC sites with other spaces the county rents or owns, and county legislators suspected at the time that Collins was trying to close out the WIC program.

In addition to 1500 Broadway, other WIC sites in Buffalo are at 462 Grider St., 155 Lawn Ave. 286 Lafayette Ave., 2121 Main St., 200 Cazenovia St. and the Rath County Office Building at 95 Franklin St. The county also offers WIC at 3527 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga; 606 Girard Ave., East Aurora; 86 Franklin St., Springville; and 54 Madison Ave., Blasdell.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com and danderson@buffnews.com

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