The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federally mandated program that aims to improve the nutritional health of low-income women, infants and children. The program accomplishes this goal by providing at-risk participants with funds that they can use to buy WIC-approved grocery items. It also offers health and nutrition education for parents.
Even though WIC is funded by the federal government, it is administered locally by state health departments across the country. Read on to learn about how the WIC program works and get information on who is eligible and how to apply.
Where Does WIC Operate?
The WIC Program operates through 90 WIC state agencies spread across all 50 states, the District of Columbia (DC), 34 Indian Tribal Organizations and five U.S. Territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana).
Who Is WIC for?
As the program’s name suggests, WIC is aimed at mothers, infants and children, as follows:
- Pregnant women.
- Postpartum women, including
- Women who are breastfeeding, up to the baby’s first birthday.
- Women who are not breastfeeding, up to six months after the end of pregnancy.
- Infants up to 1 year of age.
- Children up to 5 years of age.
In addition to these general requirements, there are a few other eligibility requirements applicants must meet before they can receive WIC assistance. To be eligible, applicants must:
- Be affiliated with a specific WIC office based on where they live (see next section).
- Live in a low-income household.
- Be at “nutritional risk” (see next section).
Even though the program is geared toward mothers, other caretakers (including fathers, grandparents, etc.) may apply on behalf of a child. If the application is approved, the child would receive benefits, but the caretaker would not.
How Do WIC Offices Decide Who Can Receive Benefits?
Typically, applicants must apply for WIC in person at a WIC office. Most states will not allow you to complete the entire application process by mail or online. You will need to make an appointment at your nearest office and bring certain documents with you.
1. Residence and Proof of Identity
To be eligible for WIC, you must be a resident of the state you are applying in. You cannot apply for WIC benefits in one state while living in another. As mentioned above, residents of all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, 34 Indian Tribal Organizations and five territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana) may be able to enroll in the program.
You will need to provide proof of identity and address at the time of application. This can include documents like:
- A valid U.S. passport.
- A valid driver’s license.
- Recent utility bills.
- Your rental agreement.
- A TANF statement or SNAP letter, etc.
If applying in an Indian Territory, the applicant must meet residency requirements established by the ITO.
2. Date of Birth and Immunization
In most if not all cases, WIC offices require that children or infants be brought along to the interview during the application process. Birth certificates or other proofs of the date of birth must be presented, along with proof of immunization for each child.
3. Income Levels
Proof of income for all household members must be provided at the time of application. Minimum income levels are determined based on the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), which is recalculated every year based on the cost of living. WIC participants must generally live in a household with an income that is below 185% of the FPL.
The eligibility level for a family is adjusted by size, with pregnant women counting as two. These levels are the same for the lower 48 states plus the District of Columbia (DC), with different levels set for Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Territories.
There are situations in which an applicant may qualify for WIC automatically without proof of income. For example, you may qualify if you or your family receives assistance through Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). That is because these programs have the same or similar income requirements as WIC.
4. Nutritional Deficiency
In order to receive WIC benefits, applicants must be deemed at “nutritional risk” by a healthcare professional following an examination. The examiner may be a registered nurse (RN) or licensed nutrition professional.
Two types of nutritional deficiencies are recognized as grounds for eligibility for WIC:
- Medical risks, such as anemia, low weight, history of pregnancy complications or poor pregnancy outcomes.
- Dietary risks, such as inadequate nutrition/feeding practices or the failure to meet the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the appropriate subject and age.
What Kind of Help Does WIC Offer?
Benefits that are available through the WIC program include but are not limited to the resources discussed below.
Counseling and Health Screenings
The WIC -appointed counselors at WIC clinics provide advice and guidelines on nutrition, well-being and breastfeeding that is tailored to a child’s parent. They also provide free health screenings, immunizations, references to other community service programs and healthcare services.
Monthly Food Assistance
One of the biggest benefits that WIC offers is food assistance in the form of funds provided on a monthly basis for food products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, peanut butter, fruits, vegetables, juice, canned fish, tofu and legumes.
The funds can also be used to purchase infant formulas, milk, cereal and other baby foods, as well as food for older kids.
As of October 1, 2020, all WIC State agencies were mandated to send out Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to WIC benefit recipients. These are magnetic striped smart WIC Cards that can be used for the purchase of authorized nutritional products. They are similar to the cards used for SNAP (food stamps) and work the same way a debit card would.
In 2021 more than 6 million women, infants and children were enrolled in the WIC program. This number is likely to increase in the coming years, making WIC a vitally important part of the social safety net for at-risk families and individuals.