WIC: What You Need to Know

Understanding the Women, Infants and Children Program

WIC is a federally-funded program that provides nutritional assistance to low-income families. The program is similar in some ways to SNAP Food Stamps. There are strict WIC eligibility requirements, like many government assistance programs. This includes income level and risk of malnutrition. While state requirements may vary, they all follow key guidelines.

Although the application process for WIC varies slightly by state, it is consistently a simple three-step process. Once a WIC caseworker reviews an applicant’s file, benefits may start immediately.

Participants often begin the WIC program without nutritious food in their diet. The program addresses this issue by offering healthy food packages meant to supplement their current diet. This includes everything from grains and fruits to dairy products and meats. For an in-depth look at how the program works, please continue to the sections below.

Learning the basics of WIC

WIC is a program that serves low-income families, specifically women and children who are struggling to meet their nutritional needs. The WIC program has been serving communities since the early 1970s and is available in all 50 states. The goal is to promote the overall health of women, infants and children who are struggling financially. Research has shown that through this nutritional assistance program, there has been a decrease in the death rate among infants, an increase in children’s school performance and better overall health.

Qualifying for WIC

When it comes to WIC eligibility, there are a few factors that applicants must meet before applying. As the program name suggests, WIC serves pregnant women, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants and children under 6 years of age. The program provides nutrition assistance and as such, requires applicants to have a nutritional risk. There are two types of risk: diet-based risks and medical risks. The former refers to risks caused by poor dietary habits whereas the latter refers to medical conditions such as anemia, underweight and pregnancy complications. Applicants must undergo a free examination by a health professional to determine if they meet these specific criteria.

There are also WIC qualifications surrounding income. The applicants must meet the following limits yearly:

  • 1 person households must make $22,459 or less
  • 2 person households must earn $30,451 or less
  • 3 person households must earn $38,443 or less
  • 4 person households must earn $46,435 or less
  • 5 person households must earn $54,427 or less
  • 6 person households must earn $62,419 or less

While each state sets its own income limits, most follow the federal guidelines. Remember, it is important to always check state guidelines as some states set lower limits. The final requirement for WIC eligibility is that applicants live within the state in which they are applying. For example, a resident of California cannot apply for the WIC program in Idaho, as states may vary in their process.

Applying for WIC

The WIC application process varies from state to state. If you are wondering where to apply for WIC, you will generally find the answer by visiting your state’s WIC website for information on where the local offices are held. In most states, applicants must visit their local WIC office in person to complete the application. Only a few states, including Delaware, Georgia and Pennsylvania, allow residents to apply for WIC online. The application process typically goes through a few stages, which are as follows:

  • Gathering documentation — Applicants must bring proof of identity, income and address. Acceptable documentation includes driver’s licenses, pay stubs, utility bills. If applicable, the WIC program may also request a confirmation of the pregnancy, children’s immunization records and Social Security Numbers.
  • Submitting the application — The next step in the application process is completing the application. Most states require applicants to first schedule an appointment to visit the WIC office and will complete the application in person.
  • Undergoing the WIC appointment and interview — The WIC interview is the last step and it entails a review of the family’s eligibility, dietary habits and current health. All members of the family must be present for the interview as a health professional will perform a health screening to verify that candidates meet the nutritional risk eligibility requirement.

Applicants can receive their WIC benefits on the same day in some states. Local offices can create priority lists to determine who receives benefits when funding is limited. There are several priority levels to ensure that benefits go to the applicants who need them the most. The first level is the most urgent and includes pregnant women, breastfeeding women and infants who have medical conditions relating to their nutrition. The second level includes infants who are 6 months in age or younger with mothers who have medical conditions linked to their nutrition. Priority level 3 adds women who are experiencing homelessness to the list. The priority lists may vary in some states.

What WIC Benefits Provide

WIC benefits are available to recipients via voucher, cash or an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, depending on the state. Recipients may use their benefits to purchase specific foods every month and, in some cases, will receive food packages directly to their door. WIC provides food packages that are designed to supplement recipients’ diet. There are several types of packages for different types of participants. The foods typically include:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Canned Fish
  • Juice
  • Cereal
  • Legumes
  • Infant formula

Breastfeeding participants have access to additional benefits. The WIC program recognizes the nutritional value in breast milk for infants and as such, offers several resources to new mothers who are able and choose to breastfeed. This includes access to trained staff, peer counselors, online resources and tools such as breast shells and pumps.

As it pertains to how long participants can receive benefits, it is important to note that the WIC program is designed to be short-term. Because of this, each participant will be eligible to stay within the program for a limited amount of time. WIC benefits typically last 6 months to a year and can vary depending on the state and the type of participant. Recipients may re-submit their application if they meet all eligibility requirements once the benefits expire. The general guidelines for benefits are as follows:

  • Breastfeeding mothers receive benefits up to a year.
  • Non-breastfeeding mothers receive benefits for 6 months.
  • Infants are eligible until their first birthday, after which they fall into WIC’s children category and will have to reapply for assistance.

Checking Your WIC Balance

Many states have developed mobile apps to make it easier for program participants to check their WIC balance. The WICShopper app is currently available in over 20 states including Arkansas, Montana and Nevada. Through the application, participants can check to see their balance as well as scan the barcodes on grocery items to see if they are WIC eligible. Some states such as Alabama, Minnesota and South Dakota have created their own in-state app that has the same features as the WICShopper. These tools are extremely beneficial to participants as it allows them to plan accordingly.