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With healthy food lists and WIC online resources, program participants are granted food assistance and resources to manage their own health. WIC also provides health screenings, nutrition and breastfeeding counseling and referrals to other health and welfare programs. The combined effects of the WIC services are intended to improve the health of low-income women, infants and children. Some states offer these benefits in the form of an electronic benefits card while some offer food packages, but the basic offerings of the program remain the same.
WIC benefits show a lot of good results for the program participants. Studies have proven that pregnant and postpartum women who participate in WIC see longer and safer pregnancies, earlier prenatal care and healthy weight gain. Infants whose mothers enrolled in the program are less likely to be born prematurely and more likely to have healthy growth. Additionally, children benefitting from WIC are less likely to have anemia, are provided regular medical care and show improvement in school.
WIC food assistance comes in multiple forms through WIC. Participants in the program may be given food packages or cash grants. Like SNAP benefits, cash assistance from WIC can only be used to purchase approved foods, and beneficiaries can collect their grants as cash, vouchers or an electronic benefits card, depending on their state.
However, states, territories and tribes have been transitioning from paper WIC checks to electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. Like credit cards, EBT cards come with a magnetic strip that beneficiaries can use in check-out lanes at any participating grocery store. The WIC EBT system is considered an easier and more efficient way for those enrolled in the program to shop, and the federal government is mandating its use among states.
Currently, the following tribes are still in the “Implementation” phase, which means beneficiaries still receive paper checks:
The following states, territories and tribes are still in the “Pilot/Rollout Phase,” which means some beneficiaries may receive paper checks while others may receive EBT cards:
Additionally, WIC approved foods are available through the Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The WIC farmers market program is available to both applicants who have been certified for WIC and those who are still on a waiting list. Families eligible for FMNP are given coupons to use at local farmers markets so that they can purchase healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables. However, state agencies might limit the use of these coupons to WIC eligible foods grown within the state in order to support the local economy.
Finally, WIC food list items are grouped into food packages. Like the cash benefit option, WIC food packages provide supplemental nutrition needed by women, infants, and children. The products included in a package are determined by state in order to allow for the cultural preferences, and packages differ for each category of applicant. For example, the food package for an underweight pregnant mother will not include the same items as the food package for an anemic child. Food packages include items like whole wheat bread, canned fish, juice and iron-fortified WIC formula for infants. Learn more about food packages by downloading our free guide.
WIC locations provide a free nutritional risk assessment during a candidate’s application process, but WIC also connects beneficiaries to health services after they are approved. By partnering with screening and immunization providers, WIC makes it easier for benefitting families to protect their children from preventable diseases. WIC also offers screening and referrals for women suffering from or at risk for depression and referrals to substance abuse counseling, among others. While WIC does not provide health care services itself, it keeps a reciprocal partnership with health professionals. Doctors recommend qualifying patients to the WIC program, and WIC refers patients to participating doctors, nurses and nutritionists.
WIC program benefits are available at a variety of WIC service locations. Mobile clinics, local hospitals or community centers can all partner with WIC to provide family services. However, participants who are already receiving medical care are encouraged to stay with their family doctor, while participants who do not regularly see a health care provider are strongly encouraged to seek out a provider. The WIC program’s role is to discover which children need immunizations or other services and share that information with the parents.
WIC nutrition classes are available online, and WIC is the only supplemental nutrition program that is legally required to provide education courses to participants at no cost. Each WIC state agency is tasked with creating courses that will best serve their demographic and support their participants. For example, the Sonoma County agency in Texas offers topics such as “What can I buy with WIC?”, “Baby’s First Bites” and “Food Safety at Home.” The Texas state agency offers such courses as “A Guide for New Dads.” Each state agency has an online portal to make classes easily accessible to participants.
WIC training is provided to mothers before their infants are even born to prepare them to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is a priority in the program because the government believes that breast milk is the best available nutrition for infants. WIC staff offers encouragement and guidance to new mothers during the prenatal and postpartum periods to encourage them to breastfeed. A support system is also created for new mothers that pairs them with other new mothers and assigns them a trained peer counselor to help navigate any challenges in breastfeeding.
WIC breastfeeding mothers are able to participate in the program longer than non-breastfeeding mothers, and their cases are prioritized. Mothers who breastfeed are rewarded with a greater quantity and variety of foods, plus breastfeeding aids such as breast pumps and breast shells. Non-breastfeeding mothers are provided WIC baby formula instead.
The WIC benefits list is not only for mothers, however. The WIC website specifically for breastfeeding provides free pamphlets for dads and grandmothers that list ways other family members are needed to support a breastfeeding mother and the best ways for them to be involved with the new baby. Additionally, fathers, grandparents, foster parents, and legal guardians who participate in WIC can sign up for any of the WIC online education provided by their state. To learn more about how breastfeeding benefits your infant and the resources WIC offers, download our comprehensive guide.