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Food Assistance: Financial Information on WIC Nutrition Services and Administrative Costs

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The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federally funded nutrition assistance program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). This program provides supplemental foods; nutrition services, such as nutrition and breastfeeding counseling; and health care referrals to lower-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women; infants; and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk. FNS provides annual cash grants that in fiscal year 1998 supported program operations at 55 state-level WIC agencies (including agencies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and 33 Indian tribal organizations. Some of these state-level agencies—those that operate the program at both the state and local levels—retain all of their WIC grants. Most state-level WIC agencies, however, retain a portion of their grants and pass on the remaining funds to the nearly 1,800 local WIC agencies.

In fiscal year 1998, the Congress appropriated about $3.9 billion for WIC. Almost three-fourths of these funds ($2.8 billion) were used to acquire food, and the remaining funds ($1.1 billion) were used for nutrition services and administration. In general, there are two categories of allowable nutrition services and administration costs: direct and indirect. According to the program’s regulations, direct costs are those that can be identified specifically with WIC-related activities, such as salaries for staff who provide nutrition and breastfeeding counseling. Indirect costs are for services that benefit the program but are not easily linked specifically to WIC, such as salaries for staff providing accounting services for both WIC and non-WIC programs. In addition to federal funds, nonfederal resources may be used to support nutrition services and administration, such as funds from state or local governments, and/or in-kind contributions. To ensure that WIC funds are properly used, both FNS and USDA’s Office of Inspector General conduct evaluations of program expenditures. FNS may disallow expenditures determined to be inappropriate and withhold federal nutrition services and administration funds, as well as apply sanctions.

To help the Congress better understand the costs of administering WIC and delivering nutrition services, the William F. Goodling Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 1998 (PL 105-336) directed GAO to assess various cost aspects of WIC nutrition services and administration. This report is the first in a series responding to this request for information.3 For fiscal year 1998, we are providing information on the (1) federal and nonfederal sources and amounts of funding and in-kind contributions received by state-level and local WIC agencies and Indian tribal organizations for WIC nutrition services and administration; (2) amount and type of expenditures for nutrition services and administration made by these agencies and Indian tribal organizations; and (3) extent to which FNS and USDA identified questionable expenditures for nutrition services and administration during their evaluations of these activities.

To respond to our first two objectives, we conducted three nationwide surveys of (1) the 55 state-level WIC agencies that operate in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; (2) all 33 Indian tribal organizations; and (3) 1,780 local WIC agencies. We received responses from all of the state-level WIC agencies (a 100-percent response rate); 25 of the 33 Indian tribal organizations (a response rate of almost 76 percent); and 1,416 of the 1,780 local WIC agencies (a response rate of almost 80 percent).

We performed our work from February 1999 through January 2000 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Appendix I contains a detailed description of the methodology we used to conduct this work.

Page updated: January 24, 2024