Budget Summary: WIC Program
By Karuva Kaseke | August 10, 2023
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a federal grant program administered by state agencies to provide supplemental nutrition-rich foods and nutrition education, including breastfeeding promotion and support and referrals to health care and social services, to low-income, nutritionally at-risk women, infants, and children up to 5 years old. WIC was created in 1972 as a two-year pilot program before becoming permanent in 1975 under the Child Nutrition Act.
WIC food and services are primarily funded by the federal government through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA-FNS). Some states supplement their programs with their own funding, but WIC statutes do not require matching funds. Federal funding to states is based on allocation formulas designed to provide enough funds to service all eligible participants. However, WIC is not an entitlement program – it can only serve as many people as it has funding available. Funding is set each year through the annual federal appropriations process.
The USDA provides quarterly allocations with specified amounts for Food grants (specifically for food spending) and Nutrition Services and Administration (NSA) grants (for all other WIC services – nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, client services, and program management). The funding formula considers how many participants a state serves, the size of the state, state salary levels, the number of WIC-eligible persons in the state, and how much Food and NSA funding a state received in the prior year.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and local health departments administer WIC at the state level. Participants receive benefits, which can only be used to purchase WIC-approved foods, on electronic benefit transfer cards that function like PIN-protected debit cards.
The dollar amount each family receives monthly is based on the WIC food package created for the age and number of pregnant and postpartum parents and infants and children in the household. Families also receive vouchers that can only be used to purchase fresh produce, ranging from $8 to $11 per month.
WIC dollars spent at food retailers also support the Kansas economy, bringing in an average of $19.5 million a year and close to $100 million from 2018 to 2022. For more than a decade, WIC participation has been steadily declining, even during years when the number of eligible Kansans has increased.
Common barriers to WIC participation for eligible families include:
- Lack of information regarding eligibility;
- Unmet language and translation needs;
- Lack of transportation; and
- Negative customer service experiences.
The WIC coverage rate – which is the percent of the eligible population participating in the program – is higher in Kansas than neighboring Missouri but lower than Colorado, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.
The data shows that since 2016, less than half of the families who qualify for the program are not receiving the services they need.
Extensive research shows that WIC contributes to positive developmental and health outcomes for low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding individuals and young children. In particular, WIC participation is associated with:
- Healthier births. Prenatal WIC participation helps pregnant individuals give birth to healthier infants and helps lower infant mortality rates.
- More nutritious diets. WIC has helped reduce the prevalence of anemia, and strong evidence suggests that WIC participation increases infants’ and children’s intakes of essential vitamins and minerals and improves infant feeding practices.
- Stronger connections to preventive health care. Children in families with low incomes participating in WIC are just as likely to be immunized as those from better off families and are more likely to receive preventive medical care than other children in low-income families.
- Improved educational prospects. Children whose mothers participated in WIC while pregnant scored higher on assessments of mental development at age 2 than similar children whose mothers did not participate. These children have also been found to perform better on reading assessments later in school.
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