Secondary menu

Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

Detailed Policy Guidance in Disaster Situations

Last Published: 11/20/2013

NOTE: The policies referenced below represent a summary of current WIC policy and regulatory citations that are specifically relevant to WIC Program operation during disaster situations, usually hurricanes, in which WIC participants have been evacuated from their homes and relocated to other areas within their home States, or to another State.

Expedited Processing of Disaster-Related Evacuees Disaster-related evacuees who seek WIC benefits shall be considered as special nutritional risk applicants and receive expedited certification processing. As stated in Section 246.7(f)(2)(iii)(A) of WIC Program regulations, special nutritional risk applicants must be notified of their eligibility or ineligibility within 10 days of the date of the first request for Program benefits. Although the regulations allow the State agency to extend the notification period to a maximum of 15 days when a local agency justifies such a request, such exceptions should not be granted. Rather, every effort must be made to certify these individuals immediately and at a maximum, within 10 days of their request (whether by phone or visit to the WIC agency) for WIC benefits. These individuals should be served ahead of others seeking benefits.

In cases where disaster-related evacuees move in with another household, the displaced individuals should be considered homeless and treated as a separate economic unit. Further, the income documentation requirement does not apply to a homeless woman or child for whom the agency determines the income documentation requirement would present an unreasonable barrier to participation. It is expected that most of these displaced categorically eligible individuals will be determined income eligible for WIC benefits.

Verification of Certification Information If possible, verification of certification information (VOC) should be provided by the local WIC office to WIC participants when a disaster-related evacuation is anticipated. In addition, each disaster-related evacuee must receive VOC information from the “new” State upon certification in that State. This will help to assure continuation of benefits when the participant returns to the home State. A person with VOC information shall not be denied participation in either State because the individual does not meet that State's particular eligibility criteria.

Documentation of income, residency and identification The income documentation requirement does not apply to an individual for whom the necessary documentation is not available or an individual such as a homeless woman or child for whom the agency determines the income documentation requirement would present an unreasonable barrier to participation. When using these exceptions, the State or local agency must require the applicant to sign a statement specifying why he/she cannot provide documentation of income. Such a statement is not required when there is no income. (See Section 246.7(d)(2)(v)(C) of the WIC regulations for further information.)

The State agency may authorize the certification of applicants when no proof of residency or identity exists (such as when an applicant or an applicant’s parent is a victim of theft, loss, or disaster, a homeless individual, or a migrant farm worker). In these cases, the State or local agency must require the applicant to confirm in writing his/her residency and/or identity. Also, please keep in mind that there is no durational requirement. That is, length of residency cannot be a prerequisite to receiving WIC benefits. (See Section 246.7(c)(i) of the WIC regulations for further information.)

WIC Nutrition Risk Assessment Procedures to Expedite Service to Disaster-Related Evacuees As part of the nutritional risk assessment, WIC regulations require at a minimum, height or length and weight measurements and a blood test for anemia. The blood test can be obtained within 90 days of certification for persons with a documented nutritional risk. Disaster-related evacuees can be determined to be at nutritional risk since they are considered homeless. Therefore, the blood test can be deferred for 90 days. FNS will also allow the height or length and weight measurements to be deferred for 90 days, if necessary, to expedite the certification process. On a case-by-case basis the 90-day time frame may be extended based on the discretion of the State agency.

Every effort should be made to provide a full assessment at the time the individual seeks services to ensure that s/he is linked into the health and social services network in the State. This will ensure that WIC continues to serve as an adjunct to health care as it was designed.

Medical Documentation for Exempt Infant Formulas and WIC-eligible Medical Foods WIC may provide, with appropriate medical documentation, exempt infant formula and WIC-eligible medical foods for participants with serious medical conditions. Due to the nature of the medical conditions of these participants, close medical supervision is essential for the continued monitoring of their health. WIC clinic personnel should refer individuals with serious medical conditions that require the use of an exempt infant formula or WIC-eligible medical food to local medical providers to ensure that the participant is linked to the health care system.

Section 246.10(d)(4)(iii) of the WIC regulations specifies the technical requirements for medical documentation. The medical documentation can be provided as an original written document, electronically, or by facsimile. Medical documentation also may be provided by telephone to a competent professional authority who must promptly document the information which must be kept on file at the local clinic. However, this method may only be used until written confirmation is received and only when absolutely necessary on an individual participant basis to prevent undue hardship to a participant or to prevent a delay in the provision of infant formula that would place the participant at increased nutritional risk. The local clinic must obtain written documentation of the medical documentation within a reasonable amount of time (i.e., one or two weeks’ time) after accepting the initial medical documentation by telephone. The written documentation must be kept on file with the initial telephone documentation.

In an effort to provide the best service to disaster-related evacuees, State agencies may exercise the following additional options:

1. Participants presenting at WIC clinics in a new State with a food instrument that specifies an exempt infant formula or WIC-eligible medical food may be issued food instruments for the specified item up to the end of their certification period. 2. Participants presenting at WIC clinics in a new State without a food instrument, but who can provide the name of the exempt infant formula or WIC-eligible medical food that the individual was receiving before relocating, may be issued a 1-month food instrument for that specific item. 3. Persons seeking WIC benefits who were not participants prior to the disaster must obtain medical documentation prior to issuing the exempt infant formula or WIC-eligible medical foods. Shorter Certification Periods Section 246.7(g)(2) of the WIC regulations allows the establishment of shorter certification periods on a case-by-case basis. State agencies may want to consider this option for persons who may be temporarily residing within their jurisdiction.  

Extension of Certification Period In cases where there is difficulty in scheduling appointments for breastfeeding women, infants and children who have not reached their fifth birthday, section 246.7(g)(3) of the WIC regulations allows the certification period to be shortened or extended by a period not to exceed 30 days. This policy is available for clinics that are experiencing a shortage of competent professional authorities to perform certifications. In such cases, one month of food benefits can be issued to those participants until an appointment can be rescheduled.

Replacement of WIC Food Instruments/WIC Foods State agencies may establish their own policies and procedures, through the State Plan process, with regard to replacement of unredeemed WIC food instruments that are destroyed in disasters. FNS will support replacement of WIC food instruments if the State agency can verify that the original food instruments were not redeemed.

WIC State agencies may also establish their own policies and procedures, through the State Plan process, on replacing WIC food benefits redeemed but lost in an isolated personal misfortune. Such policies and procedures must reflect appropriate control measures. The food benefit replacement does not apply to mass disasters where emergency feeding services are typically available.

The quantity of replacement food benefits should be based on that portion of food benefits for which the participant would normally still be eligible (i.e., from the present to the remaining days in the month). The State agency’s procedures should include questions to determine if the full month’s allotment has been destroyed. For example, a WIC participant who received 4 WIC checks for the month of September and used one of those checks to purchase WIC food items that were then lost in a hurricane-related flood/power outage would be allowed to receive replacement WIC benefits for the destroyed food valued at one-fourth of the value of her monthly WIC food package. The participant would still be able to use the other 3 checks that had previously been issued for that month.

Replacement of redeemed or unredeemed WIC food benefits cannot result in the allocation of retroactive food benefits. In addition, State agencies should have participants sign a statement attesting to the fact that their food instruments have been destroyed as a result of the disaster.

Mailing WIC Food Instruments WIC regulations (246.12(r)(4)) allow mailing of food instruments to persons who are not scheduled for nutrition education or a second or subsequent certification. In situations arising from critical gasoline shortages, FNS will allow mailing of food instruments to those individuals who were scheduled for nutrition education, but not certification visits. The nutrition education visits should be rescheduled.

State agencies may not mail more than a 3-month supply of food instruments. If a State agency opts to mail food instruments it must utilize a system that ensures the return of food instruments if the participant no longer resides or receives mail at the address to which the food instruments were mailed. In addition, we recommend the following policies with regard to the mailing of food instruments:

1. Use first-class mail with the following phrase added on the envelope "Do Not Forward, Return to Sender" or "Do Not Forward, Address Correction Requested." 2. Do not use window envelopes as they can increase the incidence of stolen letters. Window envelopes provide an easy means of examining the content of the envelopes. 3. Do not identify the name of the WIC clinic or use the words "WIC Program" on the return address as this may increase the incidence of stolen mailed food instruments.

Back to general disaster response information for WIC participants and retailers/vendors