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WIC 2019 Eligibility and Coverage Rates

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Report
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In the average month of 2019, an estimated 11.0 million people were eligible to receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Of that group, 6.3 million people participated in the program, meaning the share of eligible people who participated in WIC (the coverage rate) was 57 percent.

National WIC eligibility and coverage rates by year and participant category

In 2019, 1.6 million infants (43 percent of all infants in the United States) were eligible for WIC. Ninety-eight percent of eligible infants participated in the program, meaning their WIC benefits were received or picked up. (People who are enrolled but whose benefits are not received or picked up are not counted as participants.)

The numbers of children eligible for WIC at each age from age 1 through 4 are roughly equal—with 1.7 to 1.9 million children eligible at each single year of age—but the portion of eligible people participating in WIC drops steadily as children get older, from 65 percent for 1-year-olds to 25 percent for 4-year-olds.

The coverage rate for pregnant women who are eligible for WIC (52 percent) is lower than for eligible postpartum women (85 percent).

From 2008 to 2019, infants and postpartum mothers have consistently had higher coverage rates than other groups.

National WIC eligibility and participation over time

The 2019 estimates are the latest in a series of WIC eligibility and coverage rates estimates produced for the Food and Nutrition Service. The estimates for years prior to 2016 are not completely consistent with the estimates for 2016 to 2019 because of changes to the underlying data sources. However, the estimates for the years prior to 2016 can be compared to each other, and the estimates for years 2016 through 2019 can be compared to each other. (See the full report for more information on the changes in the data sources, including information on why the current estimates for 2016 to 2018 differ somewhat from previously-released estimates.)

Considering the earlier years, the WIC eligibility rate (the share of the total number of people in the demographic group who are eligible for WIC) generally increased over the period from 2008 to 2015. The WIC coverage rate (the share of eligible people who receive benefits) increased somewhat between 2008 and 2011, and then declined between 2012 and 2015.
More recently, between 2016 and 2019, the overall WIC eligibility rate declined from 48 percent in 2016 and 2017 to 42 percent in 2019. The coverage rate declined between 2016 and 2017 (from 58 percent to 55 percent), and then increased slightly to 56 percent in 2018 and 57 percent in 2019.

Changes in coverage rates across the years may be caused by changes in the number of people eligible for WIC, the number of people participating in WIC, or both. For four-year-old children, the coverage rate declined from 28 percent in 2016 to 25 percent in 2019 because the number of participants declined to a greater degree than the number children of that age eligible for WIC.

The relative order of coverage rates by participant category has remained consistent from 2008 to 2019. Across all years, coverage rates were highest for infants, followed by those for postpartum women. Coverage rates for children (with all children ages 1 through 4 considered as a group) were consistently lowest.

National WIC eligibility by race and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity over time

In 2019, 4.1 million White non-Hispanic people, 3.8 million Hispanic/Latino people, 2.1 million Black non-Hispanic people, and 1.0 million non-Hispanic people of other races or multiple races were eligible for WIC. The 2019 coverage rate (the share of eligible people who receive WIC benefits) is somewhat higher for Hispanic/Latino people (67 percent) than for Black non-Hispanic people (62 percent). The coverage rate is estimated to be 46 percent for White non-Hispanic people. The relative order of coverage rates for Hispanic/Latino people, Black non-Hispanic people, and White non-Hispanic people has remained consistent from 2008 to 2019.

In the most recent years of the series—2016 to 2019—the changes in the coverage rates have varied for the different racial and ethnic groups. For Hispanic/Latino people, the coverage rate declined between 2016 (71 percent) and 2018 (62 percent) due to a decline in the number of participants, while the number of Hispanic/Latino people eligible for WIC stayed relatively constant. However, the WIC coverage rate among eligible Hispanic/Latino people increased to 67 percent in 2019 because the number of eligible people decreased to a larger extent than the number of participants. There has been less change in coverage rates in recent years for White non-Hispanic people and Black non-Hispanic people. For White non-Hispanic people, the WIC coverage rate fluctuated between 46 and 48 percent in the years 2016 through 2019; for Black non-Hispanic people, the coverage rates varied between 58 and 62 percent within that 4-year period. &(The eligibility and coverage rate estimates for years prior to 2016 cannot be directly compared with the estimates for 2016 through 2019 because of changes to the underlying data.)

We use the term “Hispanic/Latino” for consistency with the terminology used in the surveys that underlie the eligibility estimates. “White non-Hispanic people” include non-Hispanic people who do not report identifying with any race other than White. “Black non-Hispanic people” include non-Hispanic people who do not report identifying with any race other than Black.

Demographic characteristics of infants and children eligible for WIC in 2019

Among all infants and children eligible for WIC in 2019, 3.3 million were non-Hispanic and White, 3.1 million were Hispanic/Latino, 1.7 million were non-Hispanic and Black, and 0.8 million were non-Hispanic people of other races or multiple races. Hispanic/Latino infants and children had the highest coverage rate in 2019 (65 percent). The coverage rate was estimated at 58 percent for Black non-Hispanic infants and children, 42 percent for White non-Hispanic infants and children, and 59 percent for non-Hispanic infants and children of other races and multiple races.

Twenty-nine percent of infants and children eligible for WIC in 2019 lived in households with six or more members, and 21 percent lived in households with five members. Only 5 percent lived in households with two members (one infant or child living with one adult).

Fifty-eight percent of infants and children who were eligible for WIC in 2019 lived in two-parent households, while 37 percent lived in single-parent households, and 5 percent lived with a caretaker who is not a parent. About 6 percent of infants and children eligible for WIC lived with a family member who had ever served in the US Armed Forces, and about 1 percent lived with a family member currently serving in the military. About 48 percent of infants and child eligible for WIC were female and 52 percent were male.

Individuals may be “adjunctively” income-eligible for WIC if they or certain household members can document participation in Medicaid (which provides health coverage), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps, which supplements a family’s resources for purposes of buying food), or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF, which provides cash aid as well as funding other services; here, we focus only on cash aid from TANF). Among all the infants and children eligible for WIC, 44 percent were enrolled in Medicaid but did not receive SNAP or TANF cash benefits, 27 percent were helped by both Medicaid and SNAP (but did not receive financial help from TANF), 7 percent received SNAP (but were not aided by Medicaid and did not receive TANF cash aid), and 4 percent received help from all three of these programs. The remaining 18 percent of infants and children eligible for WIC did not receive benefits from any of these three programs (although they might have benefitted from other means-tested programs that confer automatic income-eligibility).

Coverage rates by state in 2019

The WIC coverage rate (the share of people eligible for WIC who receive benefits) varies substantially across states. In 2019, 12 states had an overall WIC coverage rate (across all demographic groups eligible for WIC) below 50 percent, while one state, Vermont, had a coverage rate over 70 percent. With only one possible exception, the coverage rates for the demographic groups followed the national pattern: infants had the highest coverage rates, women had lower coverage rates, and children (combining all ages 1 through 4) had lower coverage rates than the combined group of pregnant and postpartum women. The possible exception is the District of Columbia (DC), where there appears to be close to full participation by both infants and women eligible for WIC.

WIC eligibility and participation by state over time

In 2019, the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming had the fewest numbers of people eligible for WIC (with fewer than 25,000 eligible people in each of these states), reflecting their small total populations; California and Texas had the largest numbers of people eligible for WIC (more than one million in each state), reflecting their large populations.

The eligibility rate (the portion of all infants, young children, pregnant women, and potentially-eligible postpartum women eligible for the program) was lowest in North Dakota (26 percent) and highest in New Mexico (59 percent) and Puerto Rico (83 percent).

Over time, states show different patterns of changes in WIC eligibility and participation and in the WIC coverage rate. In 40 states and Puerto Rico, the 2019 coverage rate is within 5 percentage points of the 2016 coverage rate, which may be because of relative stability in both the number of people eligible for WIC and the number of WIC participants or because of both numbers changing by about the same percentage over the period. However, other places were estimated to have larger changes, with South Carolina showing a decline in the coverage rate of about 7 percentage points between 2016 and 2019 (because of participation declining to a greater extent than eligibility), and Vermont showing an increase in the coverage rate of 12 percentage points (because of a decline in estimated eligibility combined with a lesser decline in participation). (The eligibility and coverage rate estimates for years prior to 2016 cannot be directly compared with the estimates for 2016 through 2019 because of changes to the underlying data.)

Coverage rates by state and by race and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity in 2019

Although Hispanic/Latino people overall have a higher WIC coverage rate than non-Hispanic people, and White non-Hispanic people generally have a lower coverage rate than other non-Hispanic people, coverage rates within a racial/ethnic group vary widely across states. In 2019, coverage rates for White non-Hispanic people ranged from 27 percent in the New Mexico to 69 percent in Vermont. For Hispanic/Latino people, the coverage rate ranged from 45 percent in Tennessee to virtually full coverage in Vermont. Also, states vary in the relative coverage rates of different racial/ethnic groups. For example, in Michigan, coverage rates are similar for Hispanic/Latino people (75 percent) and non-Hispanic people who are either Black or who identify as a race other than White (73 percent); and in Nevada, the WIC coverage rate for Hispanic/Latino people (55 percent) is substantially lower than for non-Hispanic Black people and people of other races other than White (67 percent).

There is a range of uncertainty around the coverage rate estimates because the eligibility figures are estimated based on survey data. This range of uncertainty (or confidence interval) can be quite large, especially for small states; therefore, differences between state-level coverage rate estimates should be interpreted with caution.

Confidence intervals can be computed to calculate different levels of certainty. At the national level, we can be 95 percent confident that the true coverage rate for children is between 43 and 47 percent. When confidence intervals for different subgroups do not overlap, we can be 95 percent confident that one group’s coverage rate is higher or lower than the others. For example, we can be 95 percent confident that the coverage rate of Hispanic/Latino children is higher than the coverage rate of White, non-Hispanic children. Wider confidence intervals for a particular group indicate more uncertainty about the precise estimates and are because of smaller sample sizes for that group.

For more detailed information, including methodology, refer to the full report.

Updated: 04/22/2022