WIC Explained

This is the first in a series of posts that will describe government benefits programs offered by the United States.

The next section will give basic details about the Women and Children’s Nutrition Program (WIC). The subsequent section will give facts about WIC participation.

BASIC Facts About WIC

  • WIC was created in 1972 as an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.
  • WIC benefits include: nutritious food; nutrition education; breastfeeding education; and referrals to health care and social service organizations.
  • Eligibility depends on you being a woman during pregnancy and up to six weeks after pregnancy, a breastfeeding woman up to one year after the birth of your infant, a non breastfeeding postpartum woman up to six months after your pregnancy, an infant up to age one, or a child up to age five.
  • Each participant must also live in a household with an income no greater than 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. In 2019, a two-person household must earn no more than $31,283.50 to qualify for WIC benefits.
  • Individuals covered under SNAP, Medicaid, and/or TANF automatically qualify for WIC.
  • Every program recipient must be a resident of the state, territory, or tribe where they wish to receive benefits. There is no time requirement associated with establishing residency.
  • Participants must also demonstrate a nutritional need for WIC benefits. Proving a nutritional need can be done during the application process or through an individual’s doctor.

Facts About WIC Participation

The facts in this section of the post come from a report on the WIC program that’s issued every other year. This report was released in 2018 and looks at participation in the WIC program in April of 2016. This is the latest report issued on the WIC program.

  • There were 8,815,472 women, infants and children participating in WIC.
  • Slightly more than half of participants (53.3 percent) were children.
  • Infants (children under one) accounted for 23.3 percent of participants.
  • Women were 23.4 percent of participants.
  • Pregnant women were 9.1 percent of participants.
  • Breastfeeding women accounted for 7.8 percent of participants.
  • Postpartum women were 6.5 percent of WIC’s participants in 2016.
  • Roughly 85 percent of women participating in WIC were between 18 and 34 years old.
  • Only 2.9 percent of participating women were under 17.
  • Women 35 or older comprised 11.7 percent of participants.
  • Of infant participants, 90.8 percent qualified in their first three months of life.
  • In 2016, 58.6 percent of participants were white only.
  • Black or African American participants were 20.8 percent of participants.
  • Native Americans and Native Alaskans comprised 10.3 percent of WIC participants.
  • Asian only, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander were 4.4 percent of WIC participants in 2016.
  • Hispanics or Latinos comprised 41.8 percent of participants.
  • In 2016, 74.9 percent of participants qualified for WIC based on their getting benefits from SNAP, Medicaid, and/or TANF.
  • TANF benefits were received by 6.5 percent of recipients.
  • 33.2 percent of participants received SNAP benefits.
  • 71.0 percent of participants received Medicaid benefits.
  • Only 5.1 percent of recipients got benefits from all three programs.
  • The average income of families qualifying for WIC benefits was $18,626.
  • Among racial and ethnic groups, participants who were black or African American had the lowest average income ($14,309.
  • Asians had the highest average income ($22,433.
  • In 2016, 65.6 percent of participants lived in households with incomes at or below the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
  • In 2016, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four was $24,300.
  • Almost one third of participants (32.5 percent) reported an income equal to or less than 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
  • Only 13.5 percent of the American population as a whole reported an income below the Federal Poverty Guidelines in 2016.

Note, the numbers reported here in the report do not always equal a hundred percent because of the way some data is collected and/or reported. Also, not all of the considered data was reported in the same way or covered the same time period. Still, the data presents an interesting look into WIC and those it is serving.

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