Understanding How WIC Can Help

Sadly, not every American has the resources they need to get necessities in life like nutritious food. That is why there is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This program is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The goal of this program is to safeguard the wellbeing and health of qualifying, low-income women, infants, and children that are 5 years old or younger. Recipients of this program must be at nutritional risk. If eligible to benefit from this program, they can:

  • Get nutritious foods that can supplement their diet
  • Receive information and education (on topics like healthy eating and breastfeeding promotion) at WIC clinics
  • Get referrals to health care and other social services

Understanding WIC

Even though this is a federal program, state agencies have the responsibility of determining whether or not a participant qualifies. They also are tasked with giving out benefits, giving out services, and authorizing vendors. Many people don’t realize just how much WIC can help qualifying Americans in need. People that can benefit from this specific program includes:

  • Women who are pregnant (during the entire pregnancy and even up to 6 weeks after the pregnancy ends)
  • Women who breastfeed until the infant is one years old
  • Infants until they turn one years old
  • Children until they turn five years old

A majority of state WIC programs will give recipients vouchers to use at authorized food stores. Currently, there are 46,000 merchants across the country that accept WIC vouchers. This is a type of short-term program which means that a participant will be done receiving benefits at the end of at least one certification period. The length of time that a person is eligible to benefit from WIC is the certification period. The certification period will vary depending on the eligibility of the individual! Typically, individuals will get WIC benefits from 6 months to a year. If they want to continue receiving benefits they will need to reapply. They will be approved only if they qualify!

Where Do People Get WIC?

Unlike other federal programs, WIC is not a type of entitlement program. That means Congress doesn’t put aside funds to allow every qualifying individual to take part in the program. Instead, this is a type of federal grant program. That means that Congress provides a specific amount of funds every year for the program. WIC is administered through the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the USDA. 89 WIC agencies are across the country. However, WIC operates through 1,900 local agencies which includes 10,000 clinic sites. Some common types of places where people can get WIC services include:

  • Community centers
  • County health departments
  • Hospitals
  • Mobile clinics (vans)
  • Public housing sites
  • Schools
  • Indian Health Service facilities
  • Migrant health centers and camps

How to Apply for WIC?

If you want to benefit from WIC, then you will need to get in touch with your local or state agency. From there, you will need to set up an appointment. You can get in touch by going to your state’s website or by calling your state’s toll-free number. You can learn about the closest agency near your home and what you will need to bring along with you. When considering whether or not you qualify, you will need to meet the following requirements:

  • Income Level
  • Residential
  • Categorical
  • Nutritional Risk

Is there a Waiting List?

Just like plenty of other federal programs, there may be waiting lists. That’s because there are times where WIC agencies don’t have enough funds to serve everyone who qualifies. WIC uses a priority system to determine who will get benefits first. The purpose of this priority system is to give support to participants who are most in need. This includes individuals with serious health conditions like a problematic pregnancy, anemia, underweight issues, and more.

What if You Move?

Moving is already stressful enough. However, if you are receiving benefits in a certain area, moving can be even more stressful. That is why it is important to know what it means to your WIC benefits when you move. Individuals that are eligible to receive WIC benefits that move are placed onto a waiting list. Luckily, they are placed at the top of the list when they move. That means they will be some of the first to receive benefits once their WIC agency has the capacity to provide more support.

However, a good rule of thumb is to call your WIC office before moving. Generally staff at the WIC office will be able to provide you with a special card that can prove your past participation in a WIC program at another location. Once you actually do the move you will need to get in touch with your new WIC office to schedule an appointment. They will let you know what information you need to bring.

How Has WIC Been Able to Help?

There has been research done that shows just how effective this program is. Some of the positive outcomes that this program can provide includes:

  • Better Birth Outcomes and Healthcare Savings
  • Better Diet Outcomes
  • Improved Cognitive Development

Better Birth Outcomes and Healthcare Savings

Some of the research that has been done shows the women that participated in WIC had some promising outcomes. Some of the benefits that came from WIC support includes:

  • Longer pregnancies
  • Less premature births
  • Less low weight infants
  • Fewer infant deaths
  • Savings in healthcare costs from $1.77 to $3.13 within the first 60 days after birth

Better Diet Outcomes

Besides the beneficial outcomes listed above, there are other nice outcomes that come from WIC support. These diet outcomes include:

  • Individuals get more nutrient dense food that includes a higher intake of iron, vitamin C, thiamin, niacin and vitamin B6 without having to increase food energy intake
  • Positive effects from nutrients without negative effects on cholesterol or fat
  • Better effectiveness than other food programs like SNAP when it comes to helping preschoolers’ intake of key nutrients

Improved Cognitive Development

Children were able to see improvements in their cognitive development through WIC support. Some of the beneficial outcomes include:

  • Children of mothers who were a part of WIC prenatally had better vocabulary scores
  • Children who were able to benefit directly from SNAP after they were one years old had a better memory for numbers

Bottom Line

There are a variety of programs that can help those in need. However, one specific program in particular that can help is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC is a program that aims to help qualifying low-income women, infants, and children that are 5 years old or younger. The program can provide eligible recipients with nutritious foods that can supplement their diet, receive information and education (on topics like healthy eating and breastfeeding promotion) at WIC clinics, and get referrals to health care and other social services. If you want to benefit from this program you will want to get in touch with your state’s WIC agency.

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