Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
How It Works
The Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) provides nutritional support, coupons that can be used to buy specific foods and nutritional education to pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, and their infants and children up to age 5. In most cases, WIC participants receive checks or vouchers on a monthly basis. In order to qualify for WIC, applicants must meet income requirements — family income at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, and be determined to be at “nutritional risk.” WIC in general recognizes two major types of nutrition risk:
- Medically-based risk such as anemia, underweight, overweight, history of pregnancy complications or poor pregnancy outcomes.
- Dietary risks such as failure to meet dietary guidelines or inappropriate nutrition practices.
WIC is a federal grant program. Congress authorizes a specific amount of funding each year for the program operation. In FY 2006, Congress appropriated $5.204 billion for WIC. However, WIC is not an entitlement program, therefore everyone who qualifies may not receive benefits. WIC is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. Federal funds are then provided to WIC State, Territory and Indian Tribal Organization agencies.
WIC currently provides benefits to approximately 8 million people every month. Of these people, approximately 4 million were children, 2 million were infants and 2 million were women. Evidence shows participation in WIC programs improves birth outcomes, decreases infant mortality and protects against infant underweight and undernutrition.
The Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) was authorized as a 2-year pilot program in 1972 as an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. The program was made permanent in 1975.
On August 7, 2006, the USDA Food & Nutrition Services published a proposed rule to revise regulations governing the WIC food packages. The goal of the revision is to better align WIC food packages with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Academy of Pediatrics infant feeding practice guidelines.
Proposed changes include the addition of fruits, vegetables and whole grains for the first time, juice would be eliminated from infant food packages, and low iron formulas would be disallowed. However, the proposal would also put new restrictions on the receipt of formula by breastfeeding mothers in the first month. The proposed rule allows only two designations in the first month of life: full breastfeeding or full formula-feeding. Formula would not be provided to a mother designated as breastfeeding. If that mother should request supplemental formula, WIC staff would be advised to continue to provide breastfeeding support or referral to a medical provider as appropriate. In order to receive formula vouchers, the mother would have to request to be changed to full formula-feeding status. Beginning in the second month, a partially breastfeeding categ”ory would be introduced.
For more information and to view public comments on the proposed changes, click here.
Even though the proposed rule for changes in the WIC package was released in 2006, the final ruling on the revisions in WIC food packages was published in the Federal Register December 6, 2007, with another update on March17, 2008. The program became effective February 4th,2008, and states must implement provisions no later than August 5, 2009. The final rule still provides increased availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, but also includes more flexibility for breast-feeding mothers. New mother’s are not separated into two categories (as originally proposed): 1) breast-feeding or 2) formula feeding, but rather are divided into three categories: 1) breast-feeding, 2) partially breast-fed or 3) formula-feeding. The plan encourages breast-feeding by giving those mother’s increased protein options (tuna, eggs) vs. the formula feeding mothers. In addition the new provisions decrease the quantity of juice provided to families and does not allow high fat dairy to those children and mother’s that do not need it to better reflect the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics nutritional guidelines.
For more detailed information, please see: (http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/regspublished/foodpackages-interimrule.htm).
- United States Department of Agriculture Food & Nutrition Service. WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (2006). Available at: http://www.cbpp.org/1-22-02tanf2.htm. Accessed April 19, 2007.
- United States Department of Agricultural Food & Nutrition Service. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): Revisions in the WIC Food Packages; Proposed Rules (2006). Available at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/regspublished/foodpackagesrevisions-proposedruletxt.txt. Accessed April 19, 2007.
- National Archives and Records Administration. Department of Agriculture: Food and Nutrition Service; 7 CFR Part 246 – Special Supplemental Nutirtion Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): Revisions in the WID Food Packages; Interim Rule. http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/regspublished/wicfoodpkginterimrulepdf.pdf [pdf]. Accessed on February 24, 2009.