WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) 101

WIC 101

A couple weeks ago I posted about the American SNAP (food stamps) program. This week I’m going to give you a 101 look at another American government food program – WIC.

WIC is shorthand for The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. It is a program which specifically targets expectant, postpartum (up to 6 months post birth), and nursing (up to one year) mothers, as well as infants and children up to their fifth birthday. Proper nutrition in the first years of life is vital for mental and physical development, and WIC strives to get low-income kids a solid nutritional start.

The primary objective of WIC is nutrition.  They recognize breastfeeding as the best option for infants and support nursing moms during their child’s first year. For moms who can’t or don’t nurse their babies (No judgment here – my tongue-tied baby couldn’t nurse. We all do the best we can…) or who nurse but supplement with formula, WIC provides a high iron formula. If a baby has special doctor-prescribed dietary needs, WIC may provide special formula as well. In addition to formula, WIC provides vouchers for specific food items. According to the FDA website on WIC, “WIC foods include infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish. Soy-based beverages, tofu, fruits and vegetables, baby foods, whole-wheat bread, and other whole-grain options were recently added to better meet the nutritional needs of WIC participants.” In other words, WIC recipients don’t get an EBT card for any foods they want; they get a voucher specifically for milk, or cereal, etc. WIC moms also get nutritional education, and the kids in the program get health screenings and referrals to other programs as needed.

WIC benefits are given to women and children deemed “nutritionally at risk” who meet residency and income guidelines. The “at risk” tag can be because of low income, medical issues, or other nutritional deficiency. The income scale that determines eligibility for WIC is based on the number of people in a family. Because WIC is available only to those who qualify as “nutritionally at risk,” because it doesn’t provide as much per month as SNAP, and because it offers families more than just money, the qualification scale is more generous than some other programs. For example, a family of four can qualify for WIC with a household income as high as $43,568 per year – as long as pregnant, postpartum, or nursing mom or a kid under five is determined to be nutritionally at risk. Families with a low enough income to qualify for SNAP are automatically considered at risk and qualify for WIC.

The federal government provides grants to help the states, tribes, and territories pay for WIC, both food grants and the Nutrition Services and Administration grant. The combined total cost of those grants was just over $7 billion in 2012, but varies from year to year. It’s not an entitlement program, which means that congress does not set aside funds to make the program available to everyone who fits the income scale. Ninety state, tribal, and territorial agencies administer the program through a variety of clinics, offices, and mobile outreaches around the country. In 2012, 8.9 million people received WIC benefits, and the average cost per person (for the food benefits) was $44.98 per month.

WIC provides more than money for food.  The health screenings, nutritional education for moms, and the nutrition provided during the foundational years of birth to age five have long-term benefits to families. If you or someone you know is struggling to provide good nutrition for babies or young kids, either because of health issues, a lack of funds, or a lack of nutrition education, WIC is a good resource. The income requirements are wider, and families get food vouchers, baby formula (something not covered by SNAP), free health screenings, and education. For information about qualifying for WIC or to find your local WIC office, click HERE.

Most of the information for this post came from the USDA website. USDA is the administrator of the WIC program. www.fns.usda.gov

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