Prior to enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, women and children were often considered to account for two of several underserved groups most likely to suffer from financial hardship. As a result, certain special federal and state programs ensure that members of such groups could receive additional assistance.
Under Obamacare, women’s and children’s healthcare concerns are thanks to health insurance improvements. Women traditionally charged more for insurance premiums, have access to fair and affordable rates for health coverage. There is also an expanded list of covered services. CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) was also expanded.
There are also a variety of programs that existed prior to Obamacare. They ensure necessary resources for women and children. One such program is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children often referred to simply as WIC.
What is this program and what does it provide? Who is eligible to participate and how can participants apply? Here is all you need to know about the WIC program.
What is WIC?
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC is a federally funded program. It provides a number of special services related to health and nutrition to low-income women, infants, and children up to the age of 5.
The program is specifically for those at nutritional risk, with the goal of safeguarding their health. The services offered through WIC programs include access to supplemental nutrition and nutrition education, as well as health care referrals.
As of 2016, participation in WIC averaged 7.8 million. According to state reports, over 4 million children, nearly 2 million infants, and just under 2 million use WIC benefits.
How Does WIC Work?
Women interested in taking advantage of WIC for themselves and/or their children must apply through their state of residence. If eligible, participants will generally be given vouchers for food, or in some cases, checks or electronic benefits cards. They must be used at authorized grocery stores that accept WIC vouchers as a form of payment.
It is a requirement that all states upgrade to electronic cards for WIC benefits by October 1, 2020. In some cases, states may distribute food through pick-up facilities or via delivery services that drop off food at participant homes.
There are several restrictions on what is purchased with WIC vouchers. For starters, they can only be used to purchase food, as opposed to, say, alcohol or tobacco products, or non-food items sold in grocery stores. Further, there are limits for specific foods or food groups considered to add nutritional value to the diet. Such items might include items from the following sources such as:
- Proteins: eggs, tofu, or canned fish
- Dairy: milk or cheese
- Whole grains: whole wheat bread or fortified cereal
- Fruits and vegetables that are fresh, dried, or canned
Additionally, they include healthy beverages like fruit or vegetable juices or soy-based drinks. Also included are baby food, infant cereal, and iron-fortified infant formula for women who breastfeed only part-time or not at all.
Some participants may enjoy additional coupons as part of the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). This program allows participants access to fresh, locally grown produce available at their regional farmers’ markets.
In addition to these nutritional benefits, many WIC offices also offer nutritional counseling and guidance to members, as well as access to related health services. Breastfeeding support and training programs are usually offered to mothers, while it provides children with immunization screening and referral services. Health services may vary by state and location.
Where Can I Get WIC?
WIC programs are federally funded and administered at the federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). From a practical perspective, however, WIC is administered at the state level by 90 state agencies, and further by 47,000 retailers.
Additionally, WIC health services are administered by 50 state health departments, the District of Columbia, 5 U.S. Territories, and 34 Indian tribal organizations, with 1,900 local agencies and 10,000 clinic sites participating. The federal government provides a set amount of funding for the program annually, which state-run programs dole out as they see fit.
Participants may find WIC services in their area through the county health department, hospitals and mobile clinics, community centers, schools, public housing sites. Additionally, there are services available at migrant health centers and camps, and Indian Health Service facilities, to name a few. The administration of FMNP is by state agencies such as the health department or the agricultural department.
For more information and listings of where to gain access to WIC services in your area, visit the Food and Nutrition Service website at fns.usda.gov/wic.
Who is eligible for WIC?
As noted above, WIC is for women, infants, and children. There are several criteria for eligibility. Those who qualify for assistance and services through the WIC program include of women who are pregnant.
They are able to get services for the entire length of pregnancy and up to six weeks after birth or after pregnancy ends. WIC is also available to women who are breastfeeding, up until the infant’s first birthday, and non-breastfeeding women suffering postpartum depression, for up to six months after birth or the end of pregnancy.
Also included are infants, up until their first birthday, as well as children up to the age of five. Eligibility is dependent upon nutritional risk, which could be related to either medically based risks, such as anemia, being underweight, or maternal age, for example. In addition to diet-based risks, like inadequate dietary pattern.
Eligibility for participation in WIC, income guidelines must also be met. For the period from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, limitations range from an annual salary that does not exceed $21,978 (or $423 weekly) for a household of one. Their annual salary cannot be more than $75,647 (or $1,455 weekly) for a household of eight.
These figures adjust by geographical region. You can find further information on the FNS website or through local providers. It is important to note that WIC operates on limited funds. In turn, the program in your area may not have enough funding for all applicants. For this reason, WIC has a waiting list and priority guidelines that ensure the neediest applicants receive assistance first.