Prior to the pandemic, most participants received their WIC benefits monthly. But to better support families during the sporadic food shortages in the early days of the pandemic, more states began providing benefits electronically, and expanded the list of WIC-approved foods. That gave families more flexibility in items they could choose–including around the fat content of milk, increases in the size of whole grain items and the count of eggs. And, WIC partnered with manufacturers and retailers to address disruptions to the supply chain. More states also began to provide benefits electronically instead of just on paper vouchers.
New Report Explores How COVID-19 Has Impacted WIC
Now, more than a year into the pandemic, WIC continues to pivot to meet new challenges. But in order to remain the vital resource for families that WIC is today, it needs more support and resources. I spoke with Brian Dittmeier, senior public policy counsel at the National WIC Association, about their new report on how the pandemic has affected WIC, how WIC has adapted to continue serving its participants, and what is still needed to ensure that it can meet the needs of its participants.
Federal Support Needed to Ensure WIC Continues to Support Families
The WIC program is a lifeline to millions of women, mothers and children across the country. In fact, right here in New Jersey, almost 135,000 people participated in 2019—that’s more than 53 percent of eligible residents. You can learn about how essential WIC and other child nutrition policies are in your state here. And listen to stories of parenting and how WIC is a necessary resource for moms to provide the best health and well-being for their young children.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored existing inequities in our public health system and the need for federal support in providing families with healthy meals and nutrition support. As such, USDA and Congress should ensure the current waivers that are enabling families to access WIC services during the pandemic remain in place for as long as needed, and that states and WIC offices have the technical support they need to continue serving families effectively.
When the pandemic finally ends, we must ensure that support for WIC continues and expands. That means that Congress should increase WIC funding to extend eligibility to postpartum mothers through the first two years after giving birth and to children through the age of six to align with participation in school meal programs. There should also be efforts to enable infants and children to participate for two years before having to reapply, instead of 6 to 12 months as it is now.
Policymakers must also work to increase racial equity in WIC participation, including making WIC packages more culturally inclusive, providing targeted support based on health disparities, and providing breastfeeding support that is inclusive and relevant for women of color. These and other updates to the program can help it build on its track record of success, and capitalize on how local WIC agencies across the country have responded to the pandemic.
WIC is truly one of our country’s most vital programs, not just for the number of families it serves, but for the impact it has. Bo-Yee’s family is just one of many who have been able to eat healthier and access essential services thanks to WIC. But there are many more women, children and families who need WIC. We must ensure that WIC has the support to continue to innovate and reach all the families that need it.
Read our policy brief which analyzes research on how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC impact the health and food security of young children.
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