The state is cutting dozens of positions at a program aimed at helping low-income mothers and children as part of a revamp officials say is needed to deal with a federal funding decline and higher payroll cost.s
The state is also shutting down one of its 10 offices on Oahu for the Women, Infants and Children — or WIC — program.
The program helps pay for key staples for women and children, including milk, bread and formula. It also offers nutritional education, breastfeeding support and access to other resources.
But participation in Hawaii is decreasing, dropping from roughly 30,000 individuals a month last year to 25,000 a month in 2017.
Keahilele Reyes signed up for services when she was pregnant with her son, Reign, who just turned 1.
"I like the food program. It really helps a lot cause they do provide a lot of baby food for him and it really helps him out. He gets to eat a lot of things that he likes," said the Mililani resident.
The drop in enrollment is part of the reason for a decline in funding, which comes entirely from the federal government.
About 40 jobs are being eliminated. Roughly half of them were already vacant. The state ended up finding other positions for all but four of the workers who will be laid off at the end of July.
"Nationwide, the trend has been declining enrollment, for reasons we don't exactly know why," said Danette Wong Tomiyasu, the Hawaii Health Department's deputy director of Health Resources Administration. "But we do know that there are a lot of people who don't know about WIC."
She added, "We do need to look at how do we ensure that we continue to serve the women and infants and families without having a negative impact, but reducing and creating greater efficiencies."
The state Health Department said it's trying to reduce costs by $2 million based on an anticipated federal funding cut and higher costs for payroll because of collective bargaining raises.
The state will close the program's Pearl City site on July 26 and consolidate services at the Leeward location in Waipahu.
Reyes said that's unfortunate.
"Honestly, they help a lot and it would be nice if they could get more funding," she said.
The state is still encouraging families to sign up since the funds it receives for clients' food packages are separate from the money used to operate the program. Anyone who qualifies for Med-QUEST or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) is eligible for WIC services.