If you're pregnant or have small children at home, you may qualify for WIC assistance to help you purchase nutritious foods for your family. The program is federally funded, but it is not considered an entitlement program since Congress does not set aside funds to allow all eligible people to participate.
Qualifying for WIC
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children is a program that provides food assistance, nutrition education, medical screenings, and referrals to other social services. To be eligible for WIC, you must live in one of the following:
- One of the 50 states or Washington, DC
- American Samoa
- The Mariana Islands
- The Virgin Islands
- Puerto Rico
The program is run through the local governments of these states and territories as well as through 34 Indian Tribal Organizations. There are approximately 9,000 WIC clinics in various locations, serving close to 9 million people.
WIC assistance is limited to people in the following groups:
- Pregnant women
- Women up to six weeks postpartum
- Breastfeeding women, up to the child's first birthday
- Children under age 5
The income requirement for receiving WIC assistance is based on the federal poverty level. For July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, incomes must fall at or below the following numbers for residents of the 48 continental states:
- One person -- $20,665 per year
- Two persons -- $27,991 per year
- Three persons -- $35,317 per year
- Four person -- $42,643 per year
To see income requirements for Alaska and Hawaii, as well as income restrictions for families larger than four, visit the USDA website.
People who receive assistance from the following programs are considered automatically eligible for WIC:
- Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF
Applying for WIC Assistance
To apply for WIC assistance, you must contact the administering agency in your state to set up an appointment. You can find an agency on the WIC website. You will be asked to bring proof of your identity and income to your WIC appointment. You will need to meet with a WIC representative to discuss any medical concerns that apply to your family. Children will be weighed, measured, and tested for anemia. To be approved, the representative must find you or your child at nutrition risk based on medical or dietary conditions. Each state or territory has its own list of nutrition risk criteria.
If you are approved to receive WIC assistance, you will be certified for a period ranging from six months to one year. At this point, you'll need to reapply if you wish to continue participating in the WIC program. Some states do not have enough funding to serve everyone who wishes to receive WIC assistance. In this case, applicants with medical issues such as anemia, a history of poor nutrition, or a high-risk pregnancy get priority. Others are placed on a waiting list until funds become available.
Using WIC Assistance
Depending upon where you live, WIC assistance is given either given in the form of paper checks or a card that resembles a debit or credit card. WIC assistance can be used at most grocery stores, as well as some larger convenience stores.
When using your WIC program assistance, you'll want to keep in mind the following tips:
- WIC must be used to purchase a very specific list of food items, such as milk, baby formula, juice, and certain iron-fortified dry cereals. The items and the required sizes are printed on the checks, but you should also receive a booklet with more shopping information when you pick up your first checks.
- If your child has special dietary needs that require a deviation from the standard WIC food package, such as needing a certain type of baby formula, you will need to have a signed statement from your physician for the substitution to be allowed.
- Each WIC check will have an expiration date listed. Make sure you pick up all your items by this time.
- You don't have to get all of the items on a WIC check if you don't need them. However, you are not entitled to a cash refund for items not purchased.
If you or your child is in need of WIC services, be sure to apply as soon as possible. Funds are limited and are first come, first served. If you are unable to receive benefits but cannot afford nutritious food, contact your local food bank to discuss other options.