An Apple a Day Won’t Even Be Affordable for Children if WIC Isn’t Funded
January 11, 2024
By Félice Lê-Scherban, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health & Maggie Beverly, MPH, Project Manager at Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative
As Congress approaches yet another deadline to fund the government and its programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—a program that provides healthy foods and other services to pregnant and postpartum women along with infants and young children—is seeing a potentially devastating funding shortfall and cuts.
If Congress does not act, 2 million parents and children nationwide would be left out of this critical program that is used by over a third of all infants in the US. Without an increase in funding states would be forced to put eligible expecting parents and young children on a waiting list—a waiting list for a program meant to ensure pregnant and nursing mothers and young children have the necessary nutrition at an important time of development and growth.
This funding shortfall comes after Congress proposed cuts to WIC for the first time in 25 years. One House bill under consideration would cut the program by $185 million, slashing fruit and vegetable benefits for 5 million young children and pregnant and postpartum women currently enrolled nation-wide.
WIC is a proven, important, and cost-effective program. It provides a vital lifeline of food, prenatal and child health care referral, breastfeeding support, and nutrition education for income-eligible pregnant and post-partum women, infants, and children up to age 5. Failing to fully fund WIC hurts our nation’s most vulnerable. WIC is also an investment that shows great dividends: every federal dollar invested in WIC returns approximately $2.50 in cost savings. Cuts like those proposed will not only hurt families but lead to greater costs in the future.
As part of our research at Children’s HealthWatch, a national network of pediatricians and child health researchers, and the Urban Health Collaborative at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, we’ve interviewed caregivers of babies and young children about their experiences with WIC. Caregivers talked about the challenge of finding healthy foods at a price they could afford amid rising food costs. They made it clear that WIC is essential for stretching their food budgets to feed their families a healthy diet. One caregiver summed it up: “I'm still with WIC. And thank God that is what is helping me.” Another noted, “At the beginning of the pandemic, you did not feel the price increase as much, at least in my household, because I had WIC... But at the beginning of the year, they took that away and that is when I got grounded in the reality of how expensive food is. I used to buy more vegetables, I used to buy more fruit, so the pandemic really affected a lot of how you buy food and the quantity. Especially when instead of having more help, you get it taken away.”
Robust data underscore these individual experiences. Our research shows that WIC participation is associated with reduced rates of low birth weight and healthier birthweights on average, particularly for Black and Latina mothers. WIC has also been shown to buffer against food insecurity for children after they are born.
For many families, WIC may be one of the only options they have for affording fresh produce. Yet funding shortfalls and cuts would take benefits away from families when they need them most, slashing the fruit and vegetable benefit down to just $11 per month—less than the cost of an apple a day.
Caregivers we heard from are already struggling and worried about being able to afford to feed their families. By not fully funding or making cuts to WIC more children will lack the nutrition they need for a healthy and active life. We call on Congress to make the necessary investments in our future generations in the upcoming budget negotiations. Call your representative today to make this request.
Further reading: The Food and Communities for Growing Children Project
This mixed-methods study focuses on understanding how factors at multiple levels, such as neighborhood characteristics and food assistance programs like WIC, influence the impact of food insecurity on young children’s growth over time. By understanding the complex factors influencing food insecurity and its impact on child weight, the project aims to develop evidence-based recommendations to inform implementation of WIC and other policies to support healthy growth among children.