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Understanding WIC

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Understanding WIC

Learn About the Women, Infants and Children Program

WIC is a federally-funded program that provides nutritional assistance to low-income families. Like many government assistance programs, there are strict WIC eligibility requirements. This includes income and nutritional risk. While some state may have some differences in requirements, they all follow some key guidelines. Although the application process for WIC may vary from one state to the next, it is mostly a simple three-step process. Once a WIC caseworker reviews an applicant’s file, benefits can start immediately.

Participants often start the WIC program without nutritious food in their diet. The program addresses this issue by offering healthy food packages meant to supplement their diet. This includes everything from grains and fruits to dairy products and meats. For an in-depth look at how the program works, review the sections below.

What is WIC?

WIC is a program that serves low-income families, namely women and children who are not meeting their nutritional needs. The WIC program has been serving communities since the early 1970s and is available in all 50 states. The goal is to promote the overall health of women, infants and children who are struggling financially. Research has shown that through this nutritional assistance program, there has been a decrease in the death rate among infants, an increase in children’s school performance and better overall health.

Who qualifies for WIC?

When it comes to WIC eligibility, there are a few factors that applicants must meet before applying. The first is population. As the program name suggests, WIC serves pregnant women, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants and children under 6 years of age. The program provides nutrition assistance and as such, requires applicants to have a nutritional risk. There are two types: diet-based risks and medically based risks. The former refers to risks caused by poor dietary habits whereas the latter refers to medical conditions such as anemia, underweight and pregnancy complications. Applicants must undergo a free examination by a health professional to determine if they meet these criteria.
There are also WIC qualifications surrounding income. The maximum gross income a recipient of WIC can have is at 185 percent of the federal poverty level. This means that applicants must meet the following limits:

  • Single-person household must make $22,459 or less.
  • Two-person households must earn $30,451 or less.
  • Three-person households must earn $38,443 or less.
  • Four-person households must earn $46,435 or less.
  • Five-person households must earn $54,427 or less.
  • Six-person households must earn $62,419 or less.

While each state sets its own income limits, most follow the federal guidelines. However, it is important to always check state guidelines as some states set lower limits. The last requirement for WIC eligibility is that applicants live within the state in which they are applying. As such, a resident of New York cannot apply for the WIC program in Idaho, as states may vary in their process.

How to Apply for WIC

The WIC application process can vary from one state to the next. If you are wondering where to apply for WIC, you will generally find the answer by visiting your state’s WIC website for information on where the local offices are located. In most states, applicants must visit their local WIC office in person to complete the application. Only a few states, including Delaware, Georgia and Pennsylvania, allow residents to apply for WIC online. The application process typically goes through three stages, which are as follows:

  • Gathering documentation — Applicants must bring proof of identity, income and address. Acceptable documentation includes driver’s licenses, pay stubs, utility bills. If applicable, the WIC program may also request a confirmation of the pregnancy, children’s immunization records and Social Security Numbers.
  • Submitting the application — The next step in the application process is completing the application. Most states require applicants to first schedule an appointment to visit the WIC office and will complete the application in person.
  • Undergoing the WIC appointment and interview — The WIC interview is the last step and it entails a review of the family’s eligibility, dietary habits and current health. All members of the family must be present for the interview as a health professional will perform a health screening to verify that candidates meet the nutritional risk eligibility requirement.

In some states, applicants can receive their WIC benefits on the same day. Local offices can create priority lists to determine who receives benefits when funding is limited. To ensure that benefits go to the applicants who need them the most, there are several priority levels. The first level is the most urgent and includes pregnant women, breastfeeding women and infants who have medical conditions relating to their nutrition. The second level includes infants who are 6 months in age or younger with mothers who have medical conditions linked to their nutrition. Priority level 3 adds women who are experiencing homelessness to the list. The priority lists may vary in some states.

What can you get with WIC benefits?

WIC benefits are available to recipients via voucher, cash or an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, depending on the state. Recipients can use their benefits to purchase specific foods every month and, in some cases, will receive food packages directly to their door. WIC provides food packages that are designed to supplement recipients’ diet. There are several types of packages for different types of participants. The foods typically include:

  • Juice
  • Cereal
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Canned Fish
  • Legumes
  • Infant formula

Breastfeeding participants have access to additional benefits. The WIC program recognizes the nutritional value in breast milk for infants and as such, offers several resources to new mothers who are able and choose to breastfeed. This includes access to trained staff, peer counselors, online resources and tools such as breast shells and pumps.

As it pertains to how long participants can receive benefits, it is important to note that the WIC program is designed to be short-term. As such, each participant will be eligible to stay within the program for a limited amount of time. WIC benefits typically last 6 months to a year and can vary depending on the state and the type of participant. Once the benefits expire, recipients may re-submit their application if they meet all eligibility requirements. The general guidelines for benefits are as follows:

  • Breastfeeding mothers receive benefits up to a year.
  • Non-breastfeeding mothers receive benefits for 6 months.
  • Infants are eligible until their first birthday, after which they fall into WIC’s children category and will have to reapply for assistance.

How to Check Your WIC Balance

To make it easier for program participants to check their WIC balance, many states have developed mobile apps. The WICShopper app is currently available in over 20 states including Arkansas, Montana and Nevada. Through the application, participants can check to see their balance as well as scan the barcodes on grocery items to see if they are WIC eligible. Some states such as Alabama, Minnesota and South Dakota have created their own in-state app that has the same features as the WICShopper. These tools are very beneficial to participants as it allows them to plan accordingly.

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