Protecting and Expanding WIC Funding: Ensuring Access to Vital Nutrition Benefits
The Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) serves as a lifeline, providing essential nutrition support to millions of pregnant and postpartum individuals, infants, and young children with low incomes. Since 2020, WIC has experienced a remarkable increase in participation, surpassing the USDA's projected levels for the upcoming fiscal year. Unlike entitlement programs like CalFresh or Medi-Cal, WIC requires annual funding allocation to ensure all eligible families with young children can access the crucial benefits they need. With rising food costs and a growing number of participants, it is critical to maintain the current evidence-based level of food benefits through continued investment in the annual budget.
More than half of participants in a 2022 statewide survey conducted by FM3 Research said their WIC benefits run out before the end of the month.
In March, the President's budget requested $6.3 billion in funding for WIC to support the increase in participation. In June, the Senate and House Committee on Appropriations unveiled their funding plans for WIC. While the Senate remained committed to the President's budget recommendation, the House Appropriations Committee proposed devastating cuts deviating from the funding levels agreed in the debt ceiling bill. The House's bill funding for WIC is $800 million below the President's budget request, potentially reducing benefits for nearly 600,000 children and 200,000 pregnant and postpartum individuals in California. These cuts would translate to a $170 million reduction in fruit and vegetable benefits for Californians in 2024. Even under the Senate bill, which preserves fruit and vegetable benefits, approximately 90,000 Californians may be turned away from WIC. These cuts jeopardize the program's ability to meet the growing need for services, threatening its longstanding commitment to nutrition and well-being.
The consequences of these proposed cuts are alarming. One to four-year-olds would see their monthly allotment for fruits and vegetables slashed from $25 to just $11. For breastfeeding individuals, it drops from $49 to $15. These reductions hinder the nutritional well-being of underserved Californian families and exacerbate food insecurity, adding to the hardships faced in a year already marked by reductions and cuts in federal Public Health Emergency aid. The proposed budgets by the House and the Senate are so low that they would very likely force eligible children and postpartum people onto waiting lists in order to receive much-needed nutrition benefits.
Three in five survey respondents who received increased WIC funds said losing these benefits would make it much harder for them to afford food.
Advocacy efforts to bring awareness have prompted the Biden Administration to urgently call for a $1.4 billion increase in WIC funding. However, it is unlikely the budget will be approved by the end of September, which might result in a temporary government shutdown or the passing of a Continuing Resolution -a temporary measure that would continue funding at previous levels but would not be enough to cover all WIC families. Congress needs to ensure emergency funding for WIC is included in a Continuing Resolution.
Recent data indicates that with the current growth in participation, WIC needs significant additional funding beyond what is outlined by both the Senate bill and the President's budget request. WIC is projected to serve more than 6.6 million individuals in the US in 2024, requiring up to $7.3 billion in funding. A higher appropriation amount is indispensable to sustain the WIC program and to continue supporting all eligible families.
Carmina from San Diego explained how WIC has impacted her family, "Since we started receiving WIC benefits, we have been able to afford more fruits and vegetables, and it helped me feel more confident my son will grow healthier and stronger. WIC has been instrumental in our ability to eat healthier. "
Carmina also shared how receiving reduced benefits would create more hardships for her family. "The $24 in benefits allow me to purchase a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, I can buy the grapes and strawberries that my son loves. My son goes to occupational therapy many hours a week, and finding foods he will eat is difficult. I can offer him more fruits and vegetables with the WIC benefits and ensure he has healthier options. It would be extremely detrimental if we stop receiving WIC benefits."
The Senate is set to consider the Agriculture Appropriations bill this week, and if the budget is not approved, they will be working on a Continuing Resolution. As the appropriations process unfolds, Congress must prioritize adequate funding for WIC to accommodate increased participation, provide science-based food packages for optimal nutrition, and maintain the current level of fruit and vegetable benefits into FY 2024.
In nearly fifty years of operating the program, Congress has never cut WIC benefits. Congress must act now to protect and expand WIC funding to ensure that every Californian family can access these vital nutrition benefits.
Tell Congress to increase WIC funding before Sep 30, 2023, to ensure participants will not lose critical benefits or be turned away.
Send a message to your Representatives by filling out this Action Alert.