The New York Times editorial, “Rethinking Help for Children” points out the
insufficiency of a thirty year-old federal program to achieve its goals. The Women,
Infants, and Children (WIC) food assistance program was established in the mid 1970s
and intended to provide financial help to approximately 8 million individuals that
includes about half of all American infants and one-quarter of children (NYT 2008).
According to the criticisms highlighted by the article, the structure of the program
provides food vouchers to low-income families, but those vouchers are usable mainly for
high-fat and high-sugar foods that contradict some of the basic dietary principles that
nutritionists have developed in the three decades since the inception of the WIC program.
Under pressure from the Institute of Medicine, the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) updated WIC regulations to improve the nutritional value to recipients, but even
those changes are insufficient, largely because budgetary concerns limit the program
budget to increases that amount to a few extra dollars each month, per person, for better
nutritional choices such as fresh fruits and vegetables (NYT 2008).
Conflict theorists would propose remedies similar to those proposed by functionalists, except that their analysis of programs targeted for budgetary reduction would not be based purely on their relative worth to society as a whole. Functionalists would probably propose a long list of other federal programs whose importance is less significant to society as a whole than the WIC program which affects so many individuals at such a critical point in their lives. In light of changes in nutritional philosophy since the 1970s, functionalist critics would insist on increasing the program budget in accordance with the nutritional needs of its recipients instead of adhering to a budget that only provides for outdated nutritional objectives. While interactionists would not necessarily oppose the WIC program or improving it to provide for better nutrition for recipients, they might argue that the program already provides for the most basic nutritional needs far beyond what is available to anyone in truly impoverished regions of the world. Interactionists might suggest that continually providing more and more public assistance to low income families actually reduces their incentive to improve their situation through hard work. The Functionalist Reaction and Remedy:In general, functionalists view society as an interconnected organism in which the whole is only as healthy as the overall health of all its parts; they also consider the needs of everyone in society as the responsibility of society to provide as a whole (Macionis 2003). Trouble, Issue, Social Problem, or Sociological Problem:Characterizing the matter of increasing the WIC budget as either a trouble, or an issue, or a social problem, or a sociological problem, probably depends on one"tms perspective. Therefore, functionalist observers of the WIC situation would strongly criticize the OMB for failing to authorize sufficient funding to achieve the changes to the program necessary to meet its objectives. Interactionists might characterize the situation as a trouble caused by the social problem of pandering to the poor. The Interactionist Response and Remedy:Interactionists oppose the idea that individuals are cast by society into specific roles or "labels" (Macionis 2003) and emphasize that individuals are responsible for taking advantage of opportunities to advance within society and achieve better lives for themselves. For example, conflict theorists might oppose the recent decision to bail out those affected by the mortgage crisis, because they primarily benefit the middle and upper middle class and the wealthy financial institutions, all of whom caused the crisis in the first place by their own greed. Conflict theorists would probably argue that providing adequate nutrition for low-income families is more important and fair than ensuring that upper middle class people continue to live in larger homes than they can afford. That view might consider inadequate infant nutrition to be a social problem related to poverty levels in society resulting in future troubles in the form of health problems and additional drains of financial resources. They would include future medical costs for childhood diseases as well as for the consequences of obesity, which recent research has linked to poor nutritional patterns established in early childhood (Larson-Duyff 2002). As a remedy, they might propose reevaluating the best use of the budget in light of modern nutritional science in order to ensure the best application of those funds instead of simply increasing program funding.