Your Quick Guide to WIC: Benefits, Eligibility, and More
WIC, or the the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children is a government program to help pregnant women and families with young children who are at risk of lacking adequate nutrition.
Established by the federal government as a permanent program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1974, WIC helps to ensure the continued health of qualifying low-income women, infants, and children up to the age of 5. This is done by providing nutritious foods to supplement these families’ diets, nutrition education (including breastfeeding support), and referrals for health and other social services.
WIC is available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is also available in all 34 Indian Tribal Organizations. It’s also available in American Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
Though WIC is funded by federal grants, it is administered by various state agencies and their programs. WIC services are often provided at a variety of locations. These include county health departments, hospitals, schools, and Indian Health Service facilities.
What food benefits does WIC provide?
Foods provided through WIC are meant to supplement recipients’ diets with specific nutrients. Some of the most commonly provided WIC-authorized foods are infant cereal, baby foods, iron-fortified adult cereal, fruits and vegetables, fruit and vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, soy milk, tofu, peanut butter, dried and canned beans and peas, canned fish, and whole grain breads and pastas. WIC also provides iron-fortified infant formula for women who do not exclusively breastfeed, and special infant formulas and foods are also provided when medically indicated.
How do you get food through WIC?
Historically, in most states and U.S. territories, WIC participants receive paper checks or vouchers to purchase WIC-authorized foods. In some places, though, healthy food is delivered directly to the homes of participants.
Starting on Oct. 1, 2020, however, all state agencies that administer WIC must implement WIC benefits through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. EBT cards look like a credit card: They are small plastic cards with a magnetic stripe on the back. Some may be embedded with a “smart card” chip, too. Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, WIC participants will use these EBT cards to purchase WIC-approved foods at their own local grocery stores. There are some WIC stores as well.
What other benefits does the WIC program provide?
In addition to nutritious foods, WIC participants also have access to resources like health screenings, nutrition and breastfeeding counseling (sometimes including a lactation consultant), immunization screening and referrals, and substance abuse treatment referrals.
WIC also covers children’s nutrition milestone classes to help the parent better understand what a child should and should not eat as they mature. These WIC classes are required every six months while your child is on WIC. Participants of the WIC program are required to attend WIC classes online or in person.
How do I find out if I am eligible for WIC?
Pregnant (defined as during pregnancy and up to 6 weeks after the birth of an infant or the end of the pregnancy), postpartum (up to six months after the birth of the infant or the end of the pregnancy), and breastfeeding (up to a child’s first birthday) women who meet certain income eligibility and residency requirements are eligible for WIC. Any infants (up to the first birthday) and children (up to the fifth birthday) living in the same household as a qualified woman may qualify too.
All applicants must live in the state in which they apply, but do not need to have lived in the state or local service area for a certain amount of time in order to meet the WIC residency requirement.
Nutrition risk requirements
All WIC participants must also be determined to be at “nutrition risk” by a trained health professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or nutritionist. This assessment can be done at no-charge at a WIC clinic, but can also be done at an applicant’s own healthcare provider’s office. Someone is determined to have “nutrition risk” if they have certain medical-based or dietary-based conditions, ranging from anemia, being underweight, having a history of poor pregnancy outcome. All WIC applicants will have their height and weight measured and will also have a blood test done to check for anemia. To qualify for WIC, applicants must have at least one of the medical or dietary conditions on the state’s list of WIC nutrition risk criteria.
The income standards for WIC eligibility vary by state, but must be between 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and no more than 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. That translates as being between $26,200 and $47,638 for a family of four living in the contiguous United States.
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The maximum guidelines for WIC
While most states use the maximum guidelines, some states have set lower income limit standards.
Also keep in mind that if you receive certain other government benefits, you may automatically meet the income eligibility requirements to participate in WIC, too. If you are eligible to receive SNAP benefits, Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you may also automatically qualify for WIC.
To see if you qualify for Medicaid or subsidized Marketplace (Affordable Care Act) health insurance, enter your zip code below.
How to check your eligibility
You can use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services’ WIC Pre-Screening Tool to determine if you or any members of your household might qualify for WIC. Please keep in mind that this tool is not an application for WIC, just a way to help assess program eligibility. If you are eligible for WIC, you then must file an application and confirm eligibility with your appropriate state agency.
WIC language assistance is available in 13 languages and provides translation services for those who need them.
How to apply for WIC
To apply for WIC benefits, you must make an appointment at a WIC local agency in your state.
What other programs could I be eligible for?
Learn more about:
- 10 government programs for low income families
- SNAP (also known as food stamps)
- Medicaid (free or very low-cost health insurance)
You can also see if you’re eligible for Medicaid or a subsidized Marketplace health insurance plan by entering your zip code below.