Frequently Asked Questions about WIC
Pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 are eligible. They must meet income guidelines, a State residency requirement, and be individually determined to be at "nutritional risk" by a health professional.
To be eligible on the basis of income, applicants' gross income (i.e. before taxes are withheld) must fall at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines.
While most States use the maximum guidelines, States may set lower income limit standards. A person or certain family members who participate in other benefits programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families automatically meet the income eligibility requirement.
Two major types of nutritional risk are recognized for WIC eligibility:
Nutritional risk is determined by a health professional such as a physician, nutritionist, or nurse, and is based on Federal guidelines. This health screening is free to program applicants.
Beginning April 1, 1999, State agencies use WIC nutrition risk criteria from a list established for use in the WIC Program. WIC nutrition risk criteria were developed by FNS in conjunction with State and local WIC agency experts. WIC State agencies are not required to use all of the nutritional risk criteria on the new list. FNS will update the list of criteria, as necessary, when new scientific evidence shows, after review by FNS and other health and nutrition experts, that the condition can be improved by providing WIC program benefits and services.
During Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, the number of women, infants, and children receiving WIC benefits each month reached approximately 9.17 million. For the first 8 months of FY 2011, States reported average monthly participation just below 9 million participants per month. In 1974, the first year WIC was permanently authorized, 88,000 people participated. By 1980, participation was at 1.9 million; by 1985, 3.1 million; by 1990, 4.5 million; and by 2000, 7.2 million. Average monthly participation for FY 2008 was approximately 8.7 million.
Children have always been the largest category of WIC participants. Of the 9.17 million people who received WIC benefits each month in FY 2010, approximately 4.86 million were children, 2.17 million were infants, and 2.14 million were women.
In most WIC State agencies, WIC participants receive checks or vouchers to purchase specific foods each month that are designed to supplement their diets with specific nutrients that benefit WICís target population. In addition, some States issue an electronic benefit card to participants instead of paper checks or vouchers. The use of electronic cards is growing and all WIC State agencies are required to implement WIC electronic benefit transfer (EBT) statewide by October 1, 2020. A few State agencies distribute the WIC foods through warehouses or deliver the foods to participantsí homes. Different food packages are provided for different categories of participants.
WIC foods include infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish. Soy-based beverages, tofu, fruits and vegetables, baby foods, whole-wheat bread, and other whole-grain options were recently added to better meet the nutritional needs of WIC participants.
WIC recognizes and promotes breastfeeding as the optimal source of nutrition for infants. For women who do not fully breastfeed, WIC provides iron-fortified infant formula. Special infant formulas and medical foods may be provided when prescribed by a physician for a specified medical condition.
If WIC cannot serve all the eligible people who apply for benefits, so a system of priorities has been established for filling program openings. Once a local WIC agency has reached its maximum caseload, vacancies are generally filled in the order of the following priority levels:
Mothers participating in WIC are encouraged to breastfeed their infants if possible, but WIC State agencies provide infant formula for mothers who choose to use this feeding method. WIC State agencies are required by law to have competitively bid infant formula rebate contracts with infant formula manufacturers. This means WIC State agencies agree to provide one brand of infant formula and in return the manufacturer gives the State agency a rebate for each can of infant formula purchased by WIC participants. The brand of infant formula provided by WIC varies by State agency depending on which company has the rebate contract in a particular State.
By negotiating rebates with formula manufacturers, States are able to serve more people. For FY 2010, rebate savings were $1.7 billion, supporting an average of 1.9 million participants each month, or 20.5 percent of the estimated average monthly caseload.
The WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), established in 1992, provides additional coupons to WIC participants that they can use to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers' markets. FMNP is funded through a Congressionally mandated set-aside in the WIC appropriation. The program has two goals: To provide fresh, nutritious, unprepared, locally grown fruits and vegetables, from farmers' markets to WIC participants who are at nutritional risk; and to expand consumers' awareness and use of farmers' markets.
By November 15 of each year, each applying or participating State agency must submit to the FNS Regional Office for approval a State plan for the following year as a prerequisite to receiving funds. FMNP State Plan guidance may also be obtained at the FNS Regional Office.
An administering FMNP State agency may be the agriculture department, the health department, or any other agency approved by the chief executive officer of the State or Indian Tribal organization. Click here to go to the FMNP State agency directory.
Contact the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Public Information Staff at 703-305-2286, or by mail at 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 819, Alexandria, Virginia 22302.
Last modified 04/01/13
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