The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) offers federal assistance to children less than five years of age, low-income pregnant women, and breastfeeding women. WIC is a healthcare and nutrition program of the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.
A group of physicians told the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1968 about the ailments affecting young pregnant women because the women lacked sufficient food. The doctors would provide the women with food vouchers. This planted a seed that led to the 1972 amendment of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. This amendment created WIC as a two-year pilot program. It was so successful that in 1975 it became a permanent program.
WIC is Available to a Broad Range of Families
From its beginnings in 1972, WIC has continued to broaden its eligibility requirements. Currently, in order to qualify for WIC, one must be one of the following:
- A pregnant woman
- Postpartum for up to six months
- Breastfeeding for up to one year
- Have young infants or children
If one falls into any of the above categories, then they automatically qualify if they or a family member are participating in one of the following programs: Medicaid, Temporary Assistant for Needy Families, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
If one is not eligible based on participation in any of the above programs, then they are eligible if their annual household income is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level. That is, they would currently be eligible if they are making less than $43,000 per year.
WIC currently serves 53 percent of all infants born in the United States. They want to help families. Even if one makes more than 185 percent of the poverty level, it is still worthwhile to apply. They often accept people who make more. Also, though the name may suggest it, WIC is not exclusively for single mothers and pregnant women. Married couples are very much eligible for assistance.
WIC Offers a Variety of Services
WIC is probably best known for its supplemental food services, but they also provide a lot of other educational services. WIC is a strong proponent of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is healthier for a baby and is economical. To encourage breastfeeding, WIC offers free classes on breastfeeding that include support materials and guidance from Certified Lactation Educators.
Program participants also receive assistance and guidance in accessing health care services such as child clinics, prenatal programs, drug and alcohol treatment programs, and immunizations. There are also free nutrition and health classes that educate mothers on how to meet the nutritional needs of their newborns and children.
How WIC Meets Nutrition Needs
To help program participants meet the nutritional needs of their families, WIC offers financial assistance in paying for food. Though Electronic Benefit Transfer cards are sometimes used, WIC generally gives food vouchers to those who meet eligibility requirements. The vouchers are typically issued every two weeks or so and are for specific food items.
Some of the food items provided by WIC include legumes, whole grain rice, fruits and vegetables, cheese, milk, peanut butter, juice, cereal, eggs, whole wheat bread, whole grain tortillas, and fish. WIC also offers products like tofu and soy milk to families that have dietary restrictions. These foods were chosen because they most closely fit the needs of breastfeeding and pregnant mothers and their young children.
Many grocery stores that accept WIC vouchers have little signs indicating which products are eligible with the WIC vouchers. Purchasing the correct product during the specified date range and being courteous to store personnel are a few of the responsibilities of the voucher recipient.
Overall, WIC is a great resource for any expecting or newly-expanded family. It is a program seeking to improve the experience of women, infants, and children, and it provides a viable nutrition assistance option for most families. Visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/ for more information.