What is wic?


The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a Federal food assistance program established in 1974 to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk.

who is eligible for wic?

In 2016, approximately 7.7 million women, infants, and children received WIC benefits. An estimated 4 million recipients were children, 1.9 million were infants, and 1.8 million were women. 53% of infants in the United States are enrolled in WIC.

To be eligible, pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women; infants; and children up to age 5 must meet certain income eligibility and State residency requirements, and must be at “nutritional risk” as determined by a health professional or trained health official.

Income eligibility is defined as gross income at or below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines, or at the State agency’s income standard. Certain applicants can be determined income-eligible based on their participation in certain programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF.

Nutritional risk” includes medically-based risks such as anemia, underweight, maternal age, history of pregnancy complications, or poor pregnancy outcomes, or diet-based risks such as inadequate dietary pattern.

How is wic funded and administered?

WIC is a Federal grant program for which Congress authorizes a specific amount of funds annually. In 2017, over $6.5 billion was allocated to WIC. Unlike entitlement programs, such as Medicaid, WIC does not receive enough funding to allow every eligible individual to participate in the program.

WIC is administered at the Federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the state level, WIC is administered through 90 WIC state agencies in all 50 States, 34 Indian Tribal Organizations, American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The program is operated through local agencies, clinical sites, and health departments. Services might be provided at a variety of clinic locations including county health departments, hospitals, schools, and Indian Health Service facilities.

What WIC benefits are provided to program participants?

WIC ensures good health and development by providing “food packages” tailored to supplement the nutritional needs of its participants. In contrast to many other federal benefit programs, the food benefit for a WIC participant is based on food quantity rather than a dollar amount.

The food packages are monthly allowances to purchase specific foods, such as cereal, milk, cheese, eggs, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and juice, which vary by participant category. Specific items, products, alternatives, and serving sizes vary greatly between WIC agencies across the country. In 2009, packages were modified to align with the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Monthly allowances for some foods (including milk, juice, and eggs) were reduced, while other healthy products (fruits, vegetables, and some multi-grain foods) were added to the food package.

Other important WIC benefits include: breastfeeding resources; nutrition education and counseling at WIC clinics; as well as screening and referrals to other health, welfare and social service programs.

Traditionally, WIC participants receive paper checks or vouchers from a Certified Professional Authority (doctors, nurses, nutritionists, or trained health/nutrition aides) listing specific quantities of certain food items to be redeemed at WIC authorized retail locations on a monthly basis.

To alleviate the stigma experienced by participants in food check-out lines and to increase program efficiency, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010 requires all WIC agencies to implement electronic benefit technology (EBT) cards to distribute benefits by October 1, 2020. EBT is a card-based system that allows recipients to authorize the transfer of their government benefits from a federal account to a retailer account. As of August 9, 2017, twenty-five WIC state agencies have issued EBT cards to participants that replace paper checks and vouchers for food benefit distribution.

How are WIC benefits distributed?

How does WIC help?

WIC supplemental foods have been shown to provide wide-ranging benefits to women who have longer, safer pregnancies, with fewer premature births and infant deaths; improved dietary outcomes for infants and children; and improved performance at school for child beneficiaries of the program. WIC participants also saved significantly in healthcare costs compared to eligible non-participants in the program.

How can technology enhance WIC?

While several WIC shopping apps have become available in a select number of states, they typically provide information about food eligibility and vendor locations, with limited interactive feedback. Advances in EBT and other technology as well as social media could help consumers determine food eligibility in the store through scanning product codes and smart labels, provide personalized nutrition feedback, collect data, offer recipes, provide child development tips, promote continued enrollment in the program, and other interactive features. Data collected from the “interactive smart card” could provide important information for researchers and policymakers about dietary behaviors in this high-risk population and provide a science base for designing interventions to improve nutrition and health outcomes for WIC beneficiaries.