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Women Infants Children: WIC

Oliviah Marshall
Course 3710-Benchmark Paper 1
October 15, 2013
Women Infants Children: WIC

Women Infants Children: WIC

Today I want to discuss a popular social welfare issue: Women, Infants, and Children; or
commonly known as WIC. The mission of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for
Women, Infants and Childrenthe WIC programis to safeguard the health of low-income
women, infants, and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk. After Congressed passed
an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, WIC was implemented as a two-year pilot
program, beginning in 1972, to address growing public concern about malnutrition among low
income mothers and children. After the two-year pilot program ended, the WIC Program was
adopted in 1975 as a regular program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The
premise underlying the WIC Program is that early intervention during critical times of a childs
growth and development can help prevent future developmental or medical problems. (Public
Health Law Center pp.1)
Formerly known as the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children,
WIC's name was changed under the Healthy Meals for Healthy Americans Act of 1994, in order
to emphasize its role as a nutrition program. The program was formed in hopes that participation
would help limit iron depletion or deficiency in young children and provide nutrient education to
low income members. To this day, the federally funded WIC program still provides food,
nutrition counseling, and access to health resources and services. In America, WIC Program is
available in every state, based on program qualifications. Mothers enrolled in WIC are low
income (i.e., a gross income at or below 185% of the federal poverty level) and are pregnant or
parenting at least one child under the age of 5 (USDA, 2000). In order to be certified as eligible
to participate in the WIC program, infants, children, and pregnant, postpartum, or breastfeeding
women must reside within the jurisdiction state from which they are seeking benefits, must meet
the income criteria established by the USDA, and must be found to be at nutritional risk by a

Women Infants Children: WIC

medical professional. Two types of nutritional risk are recognized for WIC eligibility: medically
based risks (for example, anemia, obesity, maternal age, history of pregnancy complication, poor
pregnancy outcomes) and diet-based risk due to poor eating habits (King pp. 226). WIC began
with $20,000 in 1973 and by 1982, had reached $950,000,000, which shows there has been no
lack of support, or opposition to the program.
In addition to WIC improving childhood iron deficiency and anemia, maternal nutritional
knowledge, and maternal feeding practices in a high risk population, studies have also found that
providing WIC to pregnant women is estimated to reduce low birth weight rates to 25%. Using
this data to estimate costs, prenatal WIC enrollment is said to have reduced first year medical
costs for U.S. infants by over one billion dollars (1992). The savings from a reduction in
Medicaid expenditures in the first year alone offset the cost of the WIC program. For every
dollar spent, between $2.89 and $3.50 in medical costs was saved during the first 18 years of life
(King pp. 226). However, with that being said, WIC enrollment rate is decreasing and in 2012,
fewer than nine million mothers and children were getting help through the program compared to
the 44.7 million enrolled in food stamps. Why is this?
I learned that both programs are federally funded, but WIC is very vulnerable to the
budget conscious congress in its distribution processes. Also, a fall in the overall U.S. birthrate
might explain some of the numbers, meaning fewer eligible members. Advocates worry that
needy mothers are not bothering to enroll in WIC and or dropping out of the program due to its
requirements to be accepted and stay into the program. For instance, WIC requires their members
to be seen by a health professional, many WIC appointments/examinations and check-ins are
needed and also some states have still to upgrade into the debit card distribution of benefits.
States have until the year of 2020 to provide WIC benefits that way, until then, benefits are still

Women Infants Children: WIC

being given as vouchers. Another factor of decreasing numbers is the hurdle of what store
accepts WIC program as a use of payment, and which items are allowed for purchase, whereas
food stamps are more generous with their benefit amounts and freedom to choose your own
nutrition. There are only certain foods that are approved by the USDA for inclusion in any food
packageThe list of approved foods is so short because form the outset, WIC was designed to
be a supplemental program that was not designed to provide a complete diet. Rather, Congress
identified nutrients traditionally lacking in the diets of WIC population, specifically iron,
calcium, protein, vitamin A and vitamin C and then left it up to the USDA to find and approve
foods that were good sources of those nutrients. (King pp. 227). The average American on food
stamps today gets $134 per person a month. The average monthly WIC is $47.
To help alleviate nutritional deficiencies, local farmers markets have joined with the WIC
program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the members; Farmers Market Nutrition
Program (FMNP). Also, WIC Program was criticized due to its meal packages being too
Americanized so they took into consideration race and culture when deciding what to provide
in packages. For example, Native Americans tend to be highly intolerable to lactose and do not
use much milk in their traditional diets, so provided as an option in the program is powered milk
or evaporated milk. In 1975, Congress first mandated to the USDA that it was to take cultural
eating patterns into account when administering to the program and later directed the agency to
permit cultural food adjustments. The USDA has to follow three criteria guidelines for
traditionally non-approved food to be substituted:
1. Any proposed substitute food must be nutritionally equivalent or superior to the food
it is intended to replace.

Women Infants Children: WIC

2. The proposed substitute must be widely available to participants in the areas where
the substitute is intended to be used.
3. The cost of the substitute must be equivalent to or less than the cost of the food it is
intended to replace (Drake pp. 230).
When Women Infants and Childrens first began, food packages and vouchers had no room to
substitute foods and there were no possible ways for additional items to be added into the
program. Now, with newer guidelines in place, the program accepts that all of its members are
individuals and come from different backgrounds, which allow room for change. Another
instance of possible change in a standard food package could be an infant needing a special
formula that is not listed on the WIC menu. With the pediatrician authorization, WIC can update
the clients food list which would allow the mother to purchase the formula for her child.
Aside from previously stating who receives WIC benefits earlier in this paper, I want to
address the number and percentages in the WIC enrollment status; According to Food and
Nutrition Service, USDA counts. Funding and program data conducted in April 2010 totaled
10,021,138 members. Of this total, Caucasians accounted for over 60%, African Americans
totaled almost 20%, American Indian reached near 11% and the remainder was totaled with
multiple race, Asian, and Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Total of women enrolled in the WIC
program were 2,356,368, or almost 26%, infants had 2,366,705 (24%) and children 5,298,065
(53%). Per our outlined lecture on social welfare, I have linked that members of WIC are
required to a means test. A means test is a determination of whether an individual or family is
eligible for help from the government (based upon whether the individual or family possesses the
means to do without that help). With that, I understood those enrolled in the WIC Program,
receive in-kind benefits, which are noncash goods and services provided to needy individuals

Women Infants Children: WIC

and families by the federal government that the beneficiary would otherwise have to pay for in
cash (answers.com).
Stigma, as defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary, is a set of negative and often unfair
beliefs that a society or group of people have about something. Attached socially, the WIC
Program can receive negative attention, or social stigma and stereotypes towards the community
it serves. Low income mothers and children are often discriminated and stereotyped as living off
the state. Many believe that WIC is not a state necessity, and should be a program cut from taxes
and federal grants. Some individuals do not look at the big picture of how WIC truly helps
individuals and their futures. The money spent to help those enrolled in WIC is nothing
compared to the money saved in Medicaid costs for the families. For instance, the government
shutdown will soon affect WIC negatively by reducing the amount of funds given to the
program. A 12 ounce can of formula, typically allowed with WIC vouchers is almost $17 a can,
milk can be almost $4, eggs cheese and bread can use another $10 easily. That may not seem like
a lot of money to some Americans, but for a low income mother with a child or multiple children
to feed, that can be extremely hard to come by. Most babies can easily go through a can of
formula a week, and with budget cuts and government shutdowns, the money used to fund this
program will no longer be there. Mothers will have to sacrifice their health, and many children
will become malnourished. The discrimination and stereotypes towards WIC is terrible; we all
need food to survive, why discourage mothers to find help for themselves and their children by
placing social stigmas on the WIC Program?
Personally, I am in favor of the WIC Program. This program provides supplemental foods
for women and children, breastfeeding classes and nutrition information. However, I can
understand how WIC can be an (embarrassing) social stigma: upon entering the check-out line, a

Women Infants Children: WIC

woman using her WIC voucher must separate her groceries and categorized the WIC items from
the non WIC items, clearly standing out from the rest of the customers in the line. Then, as the
cashier is ringing up your items, some authorized, others not, (WIC strict weight, brand and
food guidelines being enforced), the mother becomes red in the face, her self-esteem is
diminishing and that everyone in line is staring at her, sighing at the amount of time they have to
wait for her categorized items to move up the conveyer belt. I can easily understand in this
situation how a mother would easily become discouraged and not want to use WIC due to the
discrimination and embarrassment that it can come with. Maybe if the program could come up
with a solution on how to conceal the vouchers, or bunches of groceries a woman may feel less
traumatized to receive assistance? For instance, if groceries did not have to be separated, and
vouchers could be replaced into cards, that could help many relationships with WIC Program;
from those enrolled to bystanders.
The treatment of WIC relates to social work values and ethics in that we (as social
workers) help less fortunate individuals. Upon receiving a client, a social worker can find
resources to help and provide relief for a consumer. The first sentence in the preamble of the
National Association of Social Work states, The primary mission of the social work profession
is to enhance human wellbeing and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with
particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and
living in poverty. With that being said, the WIC Program is no exception to the help we can
provide as social workers. If anything, a program solely focusing on the health and nutritional
education of our mothers and children should not be taken advantage of or cut in government
funding. With the importance of improving childrens food intake today, we are providing for a
better tomorrow and the role they will have in society. Common sense will lead us to recognize

Women Infants Children: WIC

that a child with proper nutrition will ultimately succeed and achieve greater roles than a
malnourished child. It is up to us, as Social Workers, to not let the WIC program become
diminished or receive negative discrimination, in that it truly does improve our future in the
women, infant and children it serves.

Women Infants Children: WIC

Avruch, S., & Cackley, A. P. (1995). Savings achieved by giving WIC benefits to women
prenatally. Public Health Reports, 110(1), 27.
Fahrenwald, N. L., & Walker, S. N. (2003). Application of the Transtheoretical Model of
behavior change to the physical activity behavior of WIC mothers. Public health nursing, 20(4),
307-317.
Food & Nutrition Service: FNS USDA. WIC Program. Racial/Ethnic Group Enrollment by
Category. April 2010. Published February 2012
King, Brandi M. (2001). Separating Food from Culture: The USDA's Failure to Help Its
Culturally Diverse WIC Population. L. 223
Miller, V., Swaney, S., & Deinard, A. (1985). Impact of the WIC program on the iron status of
infants. Pediatrics, 75(1), 100-105.
Public Health Law Center. The Supplemental Nutrition Program: Women, Infants and Children
(WIC). Opportunities to Influence Participants Health in Minnesota. January 2009
Rush, D. (1982). Is WIC worthwhile?. American journal of public health, 72(10), 1101-1103.