So we’ve been on quite a paid leave streak lately and thought it was time to switch it up a bit. Since we work on issues that reduce poverty in our state, we thought we would dedicate today’s wonky work to an important federal program that has effectively improved nutrition and eating habits for millions of low-income mothers and their children in the country. Are you familiar with WIC?
WIC is an abbreviation for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. It’s is a national program that offers federal dollars to states to provide support to low-income families who are at risk of not having access to adequate nutrition. WIC provides pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding but postpartum women with children up to age 5 with supplemental food, health care referrals, and nutrition education services.
Wondering exactly who is eligible and what benefits are included?
WIC is a block grant where the federal government allocates funds to states, which then distribute dollars to WIC clinics. In Montana, there are over 80 WIC clinics located in all 56 counties and all American Indian reservations. These clinics provide food vouchers (some are beginning to issue electronic benefit cards) that can be used to purchase specific types of food including whole-grain breads, baby food, infant formula, eggs, milk, fruits, and vegetables. In addition to providing supplemental food, WIC clinics offer individual nutrition counseling, breastfeeding support for new mothers, and referrals to health care or social services.
Many think of WIC as a program for new moms and their kids, and indeed women with infants comprise almost 50% of WIC recipients. However, families can qualify for WIC benefits until a child is 5 years old. Women are referred to WIC either through their doctor or after applying for Medicaid or the SNAP. (Remember that past wonky word?)
The whole idea behind WIC is to make healthier food more affordable for mothers and improve nutrition among low-income families who may not have the financial resources to purchase quality and nutritious foods.
Evidence shows that WIC works. Receipt of WIC benefits leads to healthier births, improved diets among children and mothers, and is an effective form of preventative health care.
In Montana, 52% of families living in poverty and headed by single female householders have children under the age of 5. These families are at a greater risk of experiencing malnutrition and while a single mother works hard to make ends meet for her family, she should not have to struggle to afford quality food. WIC enables mothers to learn about healthy diet practices and pass these along to children who are then in a better position to do well in school and beyond.
Source: Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. Policy Basics: Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. February 2015
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.