Everything You Need to Know about WIC

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WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) is a program of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). It is designed to assist pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women of low incomes, as well as infants and children under the age of 5 who are deemed to be at “nutritional risk.” This Federal grant program provides supplemental foods, health care and social service referrals and nutrition education.

Eligibility

Women who are pregnant or postpartum, breastfeeding or not, are eligible for WIC if they meet income and state residency guidelines. As well as being a resident of Pennsylvania (you do not need to be a U.S. citizen) your gross income before tax must be at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Federal Poverty Level; income such as interest, social benefits or SSI is included in this amount. Your financial eligibility is also determined by household size.

Infants or children under the age of 5, including foster children, are eligible if they are declared to be at ‘nutritional risk’ by a healthcare professional. This risk can be due to an inadequate diet, or due to medical factors, such as the child being anemic or underweight.

Certain health factors regarding the mother can also be taken into account when qualifying – age, a history of pregnancy complications or poor pregnancy outcomes can all contribute to eligibility. Potential risks are determined by a healthcare professional at your WIC certification appointment.

Application and Availability

You can schedule your certification appointment by phone through a WIC state or local agency, or online. You should be prepared to give proof of identity, proof of income for all members of your household, as well as proof of residency in Pennsylvania.

The children included in the application (under 5 years old) should also be present. Their birth certificates and immunization records should be brought, and blood work results if possible. Check online for a full list of requirements and suggestions for proof of ID and residency, as well as a nutrition questionnaire to fill out before your appointment.

You can find WIC services in hospitals, community centers, schools, migrant health centers and camps, public housing sites and mobile clinics.

Food Benefits

If you qualify for WIC, you will be provided with a WIC ID folder, as well as checks and/or vouchers or an eWIC card. The checks, vouchers and card can be used at WIC authorized stores to buy approved foods. These foods will be listed in your supplemental food ‘package’, which will be determined by your and/or your family’s particular needs. and included on your WIC check.

Depending on your needs, these foods can include fortified infant cereals and formula, baby food, eggs and dairy products and fresh and canned fruits and vegetables, among other items selected for nutritional benefit. Seasonally, you may also be able to use your WIC checks to buy produce at local farmers markets. You can download a WIC food list and shopping guide online.

Services

In order to assist you with your family’s health, there are several free services available as part of WIC’s benefits. These include nutrition education and counselling, for example, learning when your child is ready to start eating solid foods. Breastfeeding support is also included; if you decide not to breastfeed, or are unable, fortified formula is available, but WIC promotes breastfeeding as the best nutrition for infants. Information and trained staff are available to help, as well as breast pumps for those who need them.

WIC provides health screenings and medical history assessments to determine nutritional status and areas of need. Immunization records of participating children under 24 months will also be screened, and WIC will provide you with referrals for immunization. These assessments can also be used to determine whether participants are eligible for other assistance programs such as Healthy Beginnings Plus, SNAP, CHIP and Medical Assistance.

Waiting Lists

If WIC cannot provide assistance to everyone who applies, applicants are put on a waiting list. The order of the list is determined by priority; the first on the list will be pregnant women, breastfeeding women and infants who have serious nutrition-related medical problems.

Results

WIC’s nutrition intervention has been proven very successful at improving the health, nutrition and eating practices of the enrolled families. It reduces rates of fetal death and infant mortality, as well low birthweights and infant anemia. Participating pregnant women with prior WIC participation receive earlier prenatal care, and enrolled children are likelier to have regular medical care, benefiting them for the rest of their lives.