The WIC program, or Women, Infants and Children, is a federally-funded supplemental nutrition assistance program for low-income pregnant and postpartum women, children and infants. Similar to SNAP, WIC distributes food benefits monthly. Also like food stamps, applicants can use their benefits at any participating WIC store. However, the program goals and eligibility requirements for WIC are so different that a family could claim both SNAP and WIC at the same time.
The WIC program functions by allowing participants to do their own shopping but only for authorized healthy foods that will bolster the nutritional needs of the family. The WIC food list is restricted to health food because WIC is designed to support the health and wellness of women and children. Government studies show that this program is effective in improving the health of participants. WIC is proven to reduce infant mortality rates, premature births and iron deficiencies in children. It has also been shown to increase the birth weights of newborns, the length of pregnancy for women and the performance of children in schools. In addition to the health benefits of WIC, WIC food and vouchers have even been shown to save new parents some money on health costs in their infant’s first year.
WIC food assistance is not the only service that the program provides. The benefits of the WIC program are all designed to better the health of new mothers and young children. With this goal in mind, the program offers health, education and referrals to other services to assist their clients. Services are available at WIC clinics, where participants can meet with trained staff.
Some states offer unique services, such as a WIC app, to their beneficiaries. The basics of WIC benefits include:
- Food packages. Food packages are calculated to the nutritional needs of WIC participants. WIC benefits are available in both cash and EBT form, though all states will be using WIC EBT by 2020. The EBT system works like a debit card to make it easier for participants to shop. Program participants can only buy authorized healthy foods in their package. For example, a new mother allotted one pound of bread might be able to buy wheat pasta, bread or tortillas, as long as they do not exceed a pound.
- Breastfeeding support. WIC believes that breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for infants and that it will save parents money over time. The program supplies a variety of resources to make breastfeeding easier for new mothers. Breastfeeding information is also available for fathers who would like to be involved with the new baby.
- WIC online nutritional education. All parents who have enrolled their children in WIC are provided free health resources on the WIC website to educate them on nutrition and the health needs of their family.
- Health screening and referrals. WIC does not provide its own health services, but it does offer its participants referrals to immunizations and other health services.
The WIC requirements for eligibility distinguish it from other government assistance programs. Program benefits are only available to women, children and infants who meet all four categories of eligibility. Further, applicants must satisfy the WIC nutritional risk requirements. The nutritional risk qualification consists of medical or dietary conditions such as anemia or being underweight, and candidates with severe health conditions may qualify for priority on a WIC waiting list.
The WIC eligibility requirements demand that candidates qualify by four sets of conditions before they receive benefits. Those four categories are:
- Residential requirements.
- Categorical requirements.
- WIC income guidelines.
- Nutritional risk requirements.
Though only categorically eligible candidates can claim WIC checks, any family member can apply on behalf of their child. For example, a father can apply for submit a WIC application on behalf of a child who meet the eligibility requirements. Foster parents, legal guardians, step-parents and biological parents are all encouraged to check if their child meets requirements.
Certain categories of claimants will receive more WIC approved foods and will be able to participate in WIC longer than others will. Applicants can receive benefits from six months to a year, and then they will be asked to reapply to maintain eligibility. Applicants can learn what to do to maximize WIC enrollment benefits by downloading our free informative guide.
How to Apply for WIC
Although some states use an initial online WIC appointment request, an in-person appointment is required to finalize the WIC application process. Even in states that accept mailed application, every member of the family must attend the first appointment in order to present their papers and undergo health screenings. If a family is qualified, they may be able to receive their WIC vouchers on the same day they receive their certification.
Families that are rejected still have the option to appeal to receive WIC services. Even after a denial, families can learn how to appeal a WIC decision. Applicants are entitled to a hearing in which they can advocate for their own case. However, families that are not found qualified may still have eligibility to another program, and WIC staff will refer them to the correct service.
At the first appointment, the adults in the family will be asked to complete a few WIC forms and provide documentation to prove their eligibility. WIC staff will review their qualifications by conducting an interview and screening process to determine if candidates are qualified. Families may also be connected to other resources during their certification meeting.
While the first appointment at a WIC location is required for an application, further appointments are required every few months. What to expect at a WIC certification meeting is not what to expect from a WIC appointment. Staff will be available to counsel program beneficiaries through the program and into better health for themselves or their children, and different WIC appointments will require different things from the participants.
WIC is federally-funded, but it is administered by 90 state agencies. These agencies include all 50 states, the federal trust lands, territories like Puerto Rico and Guam and the District of Columbia. Each state agency has its own forms, rules and process to apply for WIC. To learn how to apply in your state, download our comprehensive guide.