WIC vs. Food Stamps

You may be wondering the difference between SNAP vs. WIC. While these government-based nutrition programs both provide food benefits to low-income individuals, they have different application processes, eligibility requirements and benefits. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest food assistance program in the U.S., helping millions of underprivileged individuals, families and seniors. SNAP benefits allow recipients to purchase a variety of different foods at local grocery stores, convenience stores and farmers’ markets.

On the other hand, the WIC program focuses on providing specific supplemental foods to malnourished and impoverished women, children and infants during important developmental stages. SNAP vs. WIC benefit distributions are much different, considering who the programs target. Furthermore, the SNAP application process is more extensive than the WIC process. This is due to the amount of benefits SNAP issues to its recipients in comparison to WIC. The methods in which these benefits are delivered to recipients are also vastly different. To learn more about the WIC and SNAP programs, review the sections below.

Applying for the WIC and SNAP Programs

Before applying for the WIC and SNAP programs, you must determine which department administers these programs in your state. These benefits may be issued through your department of social services or family services. Once you know which department provides WIC and SNAP benefits, you can submit a SNAP application. If you are a low-income pregnant woman that is accepted into SNAP, you will automatically be eligible for the WIC program.

The application for SNAP can generally be completed online, in person or by mail depending on your state. You will need to contact the appropriate state agency to find out more information. While you can also complete a WIC online application in some states, you will generally need to set up an appointment to complete the WIC application process.

Note: To find out how to contact your state agency, download our comprehensive WIC guide.

WIC and SNAP Eligibility Requirements

While WIC and SNAP have different eligibility requirements, they generally share the same income guidelines. This is due to the fact that in most states, the same agency administers both programs. This means that your state’s WIC income guidelines are most likely the same as your state’s SNAP program guidelines. In fact, you may automatically be eligible for the WIC program after applying to SNAP. To meet these income requirements, your income must within a certain percentage of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Additionally, both applicants must be residents in the state they are applying in to meet WIC and SNAP eligibility requirements.

Unlike with SNAP, WIC eligibility requirements are much more exclusive. The program only caters to low-income women, children and infants of a certain age. On the other hand, SNAP provides food benefits to applicants of all ages, including women, children and infants. Furthermore, there are additional requirements that women must meet in order to receive WIC benefits. This includes being pregnant, breastfeeding woman or postpartum.

Unlike WIC, the SNAP program does not necessarily assess your health, unless taking into account medical expenses. The WIC program will conduct health screenings to determine whether or not applicants are at nutritional risk. However, the SNAP eligibility is more stringent when it comes to citizenship and meeting work requirements.

SNAP vs. WIC Benefits

WIC and SNAP both provide food benefits to impoverished recipients. However, the types of food benefits and the way in which they are distributed to recipients differ. For example, SNAP recipients can receive monthly food benefits through an Electronic Benefits Transfer card, also known as a SNAP EBT card. These cards are like a plastic debit card and can be used to purchase a wide list of food items from convenience stores, farmers’ markets and grocery stores. SNAP food benefits are issued in all states through this method.

However, the WIC program issues its supplemental food benefits in a variety of ways depending on the state. WIC recipients can purchase foods from an approved food list by using vouchers, coupons, checks or EBT cards at approved vendors. In some states, recipients can receive WIC benefits delivered directly to their homes if they do not have access to a store. SNAP recipients are limited to purchasing groceries themselves at their nearest grocery store. This will change, with a few special exceptions, by October 1, 2020, when all states under WIC program are required to adopt the EBT method.

SNAP benefits are available for qualifying applicants throughout the entire year. Furthermore, recipients may receive benefits for years if need be, unless they are able bodied and do not have dependents. In this case, recipients may receive benefits for a few months in a three-year span unless they meet other requirements. WIC benefits typically last for a shorter period of time. Additionally, the program may not be able to provide supplemental food benefits when its caseload is too high.

To learn more about how WIC is distributed by priority, download our in-depth guide on WIC.

Non-food Benefits

WIC and SNAP both offer additional benefits that are not directly related to food. Recipients of both programs receive access to educational programming that teaches them nutrition education and how to properly budget for groceries. Additionally, recipients of the WIC program are taught the importance of breastfeeding and how to maintain nutrient-sufficient dietary patterns. Additional SNAP benefits include learning how to meal plan and how to make healthy recipes for large households. Other WIC benefits include counseling, health screenings and referrals to other government services.

What foods can you receive with WIC and SNAP benefits?

WIC and SNAP benefits give low-income individuals access to a variety of nutritious foods. However, SNAP recipients have much more leeway in terms of the types of foods they can purchase with their SNAP EBT cards. For example, SNAP food benefits allow beneficiaries to purchase cakes, cookies and soft soda drinks. The WIC food list prohibits these kinds of foods and beverages, allowing recipients to purchase only certain supplemental foods. This is to ensure that women and children at nutritional risk receive the nutrients they need to be healthy. These foods consist of tofu, cereal, baby foods and infant formula. These foods are regulated by brand, size and price.

This means WIC recipients are restricted in purchasing specific brands that might be more expensive than the generic brands. In some cases, beneficiaries in the WIC program must submit medical documentation to receive certain foods and formulas. To receive special infant formulas, infants must have certain medical conditions as determined by their doctor. Unlike with WIC, SNAP benefits can be used to purchase all types of foods at any price, giving recipients the opportunity to self budget. However, there are a few exceptions to what SNAP recipients can buy. For example, SNAP food benefits cannot be used for non-food items, such as cleaning supplies and pet food.