WIC 101 - Benefits & How to Get Them

May 7th 2016

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is a federal health and nutrition program that provides several kinds of assistance to low-income mothers of young children. The program supplies food vouchers to pregnant women and mothers of children up to the age of five, which can be used to purchase specific grocery items. In addition, WIC provides screening and referrals to health care and social services, as well as nutrition education and breastfeeding support.
In order to be eligible to receive WIC benefits, a family’s annual income must be less than 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines. For example, a single mother with one child is eligible if she earns less than $28,694 per year and lives in the contiguous 48 states. These charts show the exact eligibility figures, including the higher rates that apply to Alaska and Hawaii. Additionally, applicants for WIC must be determined by a health official to be at “nutrition risk,” which includes a broad set of criteria that will be covered during your application process. Anyone who is already receiving supplemental nutrition assistance (food stamps), welfare or Medicaid is automatically eligible for WIC.
WIC is administered through the individual states, which receive block grants from the federal government. Occasionally, a state’s funding runs low in a given year, and recipients must be prioritized. First priority is given to women or infants who suffer a nutrition-related medical condition. Lower priority levels are assigned to women and children up to age five who have inadequate dietary patterns or who are at risk due to homelessness or medical problems. Breastfeeding is strongly supported by WIC, and breastfeeding mothers are given longer postpartum certification than mothers who choose to bottle-feed.
Unlike food stamps, which provide a dollar amount that can be applied to any type of edible grocery product, WIC vouchers are designed to provide specific nutrients. The vouchers cover individual food items rather than set dollar amounts, and these include eggs, milk, cheese, canned fish, vitamin-C fortified fruit and vegetable juices, infant and adult cereals, dried beans, tofu, whole-grain breads and peanut butter. In addition, vouchers are available to cover the cost of infant formula and to cover the purchase of fresh local fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. Education, counseling and one-to-one support is provided to assist women with breastfeeding their babies, and clinical nurse visits are routinely administered to infants and children participating in the program.
How to Apply
You apply for WIC through your state’s local agency. Each state chooses which of its social service agencies will administer the program, and the federal WIC website maintains a current list of application contact information for each state. You can also use the WIC Prescreening Tool to determine if you may be eligible. Using this online tool is not the same thing as applying for WIC benefits, but it helps you to know if you’re likely to qualify. WIC’s Successful Track Record
Since its inception in 1974, this USDA program has been repeatedly shown to be one of the most cost-effective and successful federally funded programs. Numerous research studies have found that WIC saves healthcare dollars, reduces the numbers of premature births and infant deaths and improves the cognitive development of children as they grow up. Additionally, pregnant women who receive WIC are likelier to have early prenatal care, and their children receive better medical care and more immunizations. This program has been efficient at improving the well-being of millions of American children over the years that it has existed.
If you’re pregnant or have a child under the age of five, and you’re having trouble affording food, contact your state’s WIC office and ask them about applying for these excellent benefits.
Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

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