Recent news on the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC)
The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the global community to its core. The United States (U.S.) has suffered exponential losses for myriad of reasons, including policy failures and cultural conflicts. As with our global neighbors, many U.S. families have lost loved ones, livelihoods, and shelter, challenging their health, nutritional, and emotional stability. Among the programs that have remained steadfast in their support as a social safety net, is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
WIC has been providing healthy food, breastfeeding support, referrals to health and social services, and nutrition education to income qualified families in the U.S. with nutritional needs for over 40 years. Administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and implemented through 10,000 WIC agencies and clinics, WIC serves over 6 million low-income mothers, babies, and young children aged between 1 and 5 years old. Rigorous
evaluation have proven WIC the nation’s premier public health nutrition program.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, WIC agencies nationwide worked tirelessly to implement flexibilities to various aspects of the program including substitution flexibilities to the food package so that families could continue to receive their food benefits despite periodic shortages of items in some local or regional groceries such as bread, milk and eggs. The non-profit education arm and advocacy voice of the WIC program, the National WIC Association (NWA), played a critical role stepping into a policy void, leading advocacy efforts for these fl exibilities, and organizing COVID-19 workgroups to support WIC stakeholders as they navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19.
WIC’s food package is a cornerstone of the program and is reviewed at least every 10 years as mandated by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (2010) to ensure it’s based on the most current scientific evidence, aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and is culturally appropriate to the families WIC serves. It includes items such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, peanut butter, legumes, canned fi sh and whole grains and WIC participants receive their healthy food prescription on either an electronic benefit card or paper voucher. It also includes a cash value benefit (CVB) that can be spent exclusively on fruit and vegetables. In January 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) published a ten year review of the WIC food package and recommended at NWA’s encouragement, changes to enhance balance and choice for WIC participants. A key feature of the recommendations is increasing the amount of vegetables and fruit that families can access through WIC which currently allows between $9 and $11 depending on participant category. NASEM’s report recommends increasing the CVV to a range of $12 to $35.
Recently, NWA promoted introduction of the bipartisan WIC Benefit Flexibility During COVID-19 Act, which would allow state agencies to temporarily increase the CVB to $35. Sponsored by Reps. Kim Schrier (D-WA) and Ron Wright (R-TX), the bill was included in the HEROES Act which passed the House in mid-May and remains an advocacy priority for a final COVID package. NWA is committed to ensuring WIC participants nationwide have increased access to healthy foods, particularly fresh vegetables and fruit.
We are pleased to share with you three articles that further demonstrate the importance of research as a tool to continuously reflect on how WIC participants utilize their WIC food benefits.