The Women, Infant and Children program (WIC) is a federally funded nutrition program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, assisting lowincome families by off-setting the cost of nutritious food with supplemental food vouchers. Families may struggle from financial stress, busy work schedules, overcrowded housing, emotional trauma and more. WIC helps ease struggles by providing families from all cultures financial help for food, and educational support to lowincome mothers and children. Without the help of WIC, struggling families would have difficulty affording the nutritious food items they and their growing children need. According to the organization’s website, WIC helped over 1,466,564 California families in 2012. Below are some important question and answers about the WIC program designed to provide more information.
Who can qualify for WIC?
In California, the following individuals may qualify for WIC:
- Women: Pregnant women, breastfeeding women up to the infant’s first birthday, and women up to six months after giving birth if not breastfeeding.
- Infants up to the infant’s first birthday.
- Children up to the child’s fifth birthday
How do participants receive the funding, where can families use it, and what can it buy?
WIC funding arrives to participants in the form of nutrition, breastfeeding support and food vouchers. Each month, families receive vouchers which can be redeemed for age and life-stage appropriate foods such as; fruits and vegetables, milk, beans, cheese, peanut butter, infant fruits, vegetables and meats, whole grains such as 100% whole wheat bread, tortillas, brown rice and more. These checks can be used at authorized local grocers. Contact your local WIC agency to find a WIC authorized store near you.
In addition to grocery stores, some California WIC offices also offer families the opportunity to shop for local fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets. According to the WIC program’s website, each family may be eligible to receive $20 in vouchers to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and cut herbs at WIC-approved Certified Farmers’ Markets in California from May through November. California operates the largest WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program in the nation. In 2010, 149,200 WIC families, 1,100 certified farmers and 430 certified farmers’ markets participated in the program.
Families can obtain more information about grocery stores and farmer’s markets who participate in the program near them at their first WIC appointment. What other support does WIC offer to families?
Raising a family in an age where health and nutrition recommendations are always changing can be an added challenge to parents. WIC provides up to date information by following guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. WIC staff use these guidelines to assist families in making healthful feeding decisions that are appropriate and realistic for their lifestyles. Common childhood feeding hurdles can be addressed such as picky eaters and a lack of vegetable intake. Families have access to vital post- and prenatal health and nutrition information to ensure both mom and baby are receiving all of the nutrients needed to have a healthy life. Common topics include essential nutrition and healthful habits during the pregnancy, breastfeeding preparation and understanding baby behavior.
The WIC Program promotes breastfeeding as the primary method of feeding babies due to the essential vitamins and minerals that cannot be replicated by infant formula. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. At 6 months, when solid foods are introduced, reastfeeding should be continued thru the first birthday, with continued breastfeeding after 1 year as long as mutually desired between mom and baby. WIC clinics have International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, Peer Counselors and Certified Lactation Educators who provide breastfeeding education and support for families. WIC also offers an electric breast pump loan program for moms to continue breastfeeding when they go back to work, as well as a 24 hour breastfeeding helpline and a breastfeeding peer counselor program.
How do families participate in the WIC program?
To become a WIC program participant in California, eligibility must be verified at an appointment in a WIC clinic. Applicants are seen by a health professional in the WIC. They will determine whether the individual is income qualified, lives within the Local Agency’s service area and has a nutritional risk. At this appointment, the health professional will check your height and weight as well as request a blood, or iron test, to check for conditions such as anemia. Basic nutrition and breastfeeding information will also be provided at this first appointment. In addition to the health screening, applicants can also participate in one-on-one education from nutrition experts, participate in group nutrition and breastfeeding classes and access other resources for the family, even members not eligible for WIC. The California State Department website notes that any women, infants or children who will be taking part in WIC need to be present at the first appointment. Other items to bring include: a valid identification card, proof of residency (can be in the form of a utility bill, a cable bill or any mail addressed to the applicant), and proof of income to show that the applicant meets the standard low-income guidelines. Income requirements can also be automatically met if the applicants can show proof of MediCal health insurance. Where can someone get more information about the program? To make a WIC appointment or receive more information about the program, such as income or residency guidelines, grocery stores and farmer’s markets who participate, or for any questions you may have, contact the California WIC hotline at 1-888-942-9675—options in English and Spanish—or by visiting: www.wicworks.ca.gov. Those interested in participating in the WIC program can also contact their nearest Migrant Health Center.
These centers work with WIC to provide families with information and support. Locate the nearest center by calling the National Center for Farmworker Health at 1-800-377-9968. The office is staffed by bilingual Information Specialists Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time, and accessible 24 hours a day through answering service and/or voice messaging. They can also be found online at www.ncfh.org.