WIC Disaster Response

Last Modified: 11/20/2013

Although the WIC Program is not designed to be a disaster assistance program, and therefore is not considered a first line of defense, WIC policies are designed to allow State agencies flexibility in program design and administration to support continuation of benefits to participants during times of natural or other disasters.

What does this mean if you are a WIC Participant?

If you live in an area where a weather-related or other type of disaster has occurred or is about to occur, and you have been asked or required to leave your home with very little advance notice, you may still be able to receive WIC benefits for yourself and/or your young children. WIC participants in your situation are called “evacuees." To make it easier to register and obtain benefits in any State, you should know that:

  • Evacuees have been designated as being at special nutrition risk and therefore will receive high priority for certification.
  • Evacuees do not have to present proof of identity, residency or income that is normally required (that is, if you had to leave home in such a hurry that you were unable to bring the necessary documents with you, or if those documents were destroyed).
  • Evacuees may be able to use their original WIC checks or vouchers in the State to which they have been relocated. Your WIC State agency will find a way to let you know if this is the case, usually through a toll-free telephone number and/or other public announcements. Contact information for State WIC agencies can be found on our website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/contacts/statealpha.htm 

What does this mean if you are a refugee?

A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave his or her home (country) and seek refuge elsewhere.  It is the intent of the WIC Program to provide services to all eligible categories of individuals during critical times of growth and development.  In establishing eligibility for the Program, refugee status is not considered, and it is therefore not necessary to determine whether or not an applicant is a refugee.  Legal residency or United States citizenship are not Federal requirements for participation in the Program; however, State agencies have the option to impose such requirements.

Residency:

It is probable that a refugee may not live in the State in which he or she applies for the WIC Program.  In this case, a refugee may be considered homeless.  WIC Program regulations allow State agencies to authorize the certification of homeless individuals without requiring proof of residency under certain circumstances (e.g., no actual home address or temporary residence in a homeless shelter or facility).

Income Determination:

Meeting the income guidelines is a condition of WIC Program eligibility for all applicants.  For WIC, the definition of family includes related and unrelated individuals living together as an economic unit.  As part of the assessment process, local agency staff will need to ask clarifying questions to determine the exact economic unit for refugee applicants living in the residence of another individual.

State or local agencies must require all applicants to provide documentation of income at the time of certification. WIC Regulations permit State agencies to relax the requirement for applicants, including homeless individuals, if this requirement would present an unreasonable barrier to participation in the WIC Program.  Therefore, if a refugee is unable to provide the necessary documentation, a State agency may accept a self-declaration of income, which is a signed statement specifying why he/she cannot provide documentation of income.  Such a statement is not required when there is no income.

Nutrition Risk:

WIC Regulations recognize homelessness as an allowable nutrition risk condition when determining eligibility for the WIC Program. However, the local agency is still expected to perform a complete nutrition assessment for each refugee applicant, who may be suffering from other medical or dietary nutrition risk factors that require prompt attention and/or referral to a health care provider.

WIC Supplemental Foods:

WIC Regulations allow local agency nutritionists and other competent professional authorities to adapt the WIC food package to accommodate the unique needs and circumstances of homeless participants, such as refugees.  Some of these adaptations may be necessary for refugees who are certified to receive WIC benefits, depending on their living situations or their access to cooking facilities, as well as their overall capability to make the best use of the foods provided (e.g., limited English proficiency may inhibit a refugee mother’s ability to use powdered or concentrated infant formula).  Such substitutions may include:

  • Peanut butter for eggs or canned beans/peas for dry beans/peas;
  • Ready-to-feed infant formula for liquid concentrate or powdered;
  • Single-serving size containers of WIC cereal or juice; and
  • Shelf stable containers of fluid milk or juice.

However, no exemptions or exceptions are allowed from the requirement for medical documentation to support the issuance of certain supplemental foods including exempt infant formulas as described in the WIC Regulations.

Other Considerations:

In tailoring nutrition education and referrals to address the specific needs and cultural preferences of refugee participants, State agencies are encouraged to share language–specific materials relevant to such applicants with other States and regional office staff.

What does this mean if you are an authorized WIC vendor or retailer?

  • Your store may be allowed to accept out-of-State food instruments during disaster situations. Your State WIC office will advise you if this is allowed.
  • If at all possible, the participant should receive the exact brand of infant formula specified on the out-of-State food instrument.
  • If it is not possible to provide the exact brand items for the other foods listed on the out-of-State WIC food instrument, you may substitute a similar item from your own State’s WIC-approved food list.
  • The originating WIC State Agency (i.e., the WIC State agency in which the participant was initially certified) is responsible for the cost of the food instrument. As the out-of-State vendor, you should deposit each WIC check into your bank account; the amount of the WIC check will be charged against the originating WIC State Agency’s bank account. If the originating WIC State agency issues vouchers instead of checks, you (the out-of-State vendor) should submit the vouchers for payment to the originating WIC State agency.
  • Mississippi and Vermont retailers are not covered by this policy because there are no authorized WIC vendors in these States. The WIC Programs in these States do not operate through grocery stores, which is why there are no authorized vendors.

What does this mean if you are a WIC State agency?

Please click on the following link for more specific information regarding WIC operations during disaster situations: Detailed WIC Policy Guidance for State Cooperators in Disaster Situations

Other information that may be helpful to you: