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U.S. expands access to healthy foods for low-income women and children

A positive (though modest) development for a change: WIC is being overhauled for the first time in nearly 30 years


Katie McDonough
March 1, 2014 2:18AM (UTC)

There has been a lot of bad news over the last several months in the form of devastating cuts to food assistance programs, so it's nice to report a positive (though modest) development for once: the U.S. Department of Agriculture is overhauling its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to expand access to fruits, vegetables and whole grains for nearly 9 million low-income women and children.

While some of these changes were instituted in 2007 as part of a pilot program, the announcement marks the first improvements to the program in close to three decades; the list of foods that recipients could pay for with WIC vouchers was previously limited to staples like milk, infant formula, cheese, eggs, cereals and bread.

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In its final form, the overhaul will boost by 30 percent, or $2 per month, the allowance for each child's fruit and vegetable purchases, and permit fresh produce in lieu of jarred infant food for babies, if their parents prefer.

The update also expands whole grain options available to recipients and allows yogurt as a partial milk substitute, adding to the soy-based beverages and tofu that were previously included.

Moreover, states and local WIC agencies will be given more flexibility in selecting foods to meet the nutritional and cultural needs of their beneficiaries.

The changes were recommended by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences.

Expanded options for women and children is a good thing, but an extra $2 per month in vouchers for fresh food doesn't go very far. And WIC remains a target for Republicans in the House of Representatives, who, as Molly Redden at Mother Jones notes, tried in March 2012 to cut $243 million from the program. The cut ultimately failed, but "would have resulted in WIC having to turn away hundreds of thousands of eligible applicants," according to Zoë Neuberger and Robert Greenstein, analysts for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

 

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Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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