For moms who are low-income and either pregnant, breastfeeding or have a toddler under five years old, there are nutritional requirements that should be taken into consideration for both the mother and child. These are the times of life when it's important to eat the right foods for growth and development. Unfortunately, many women and children with these needs don't get them, leading to health problems down the road. In order to address this issue, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) was created.
WIC is a federal nutrition assistance program that helps supplement nutrition for over 50% of children born in the United States. Since its inception, WIC has also helped meet the dietary needs of many pregnant women who are suffering from illnesses related to a lack of food or proper pregnancy diet.
You must meet a certain income threshold to be eligible for WIC. Essentially, the program is for low-income families. However, the income levels are reasonable enough that many families can participate if they are in the middle to low range of income. Your local state office can give you specifics that pertain to where you live. You will be required to turn in proof of income, identification (such as a driver license) and proof of your address (such as a utility bill), among other things.
Each month, women on WIC are issued a series of vouchers in the form of checks they can use to purchase food. Each check has a very specific list of foods including the quantity and size you can purchase (such as 21 ounces of cereal or a 1-pound bag of dried beans). You cannot purchase any item not on the check and you cannot substitute items (such as choosing your favorite brand over the brand WIC allows). Additionally, you must buy every item on the check. If the check says "one dozen medium eggs" but you don't eat eggs, you must purchase them anyway.
You will be given an identification booklet with your signature on it. The cashier will compare your booklet signature to the signature you sign at the checkout stand. If the signature doesn't match, you will not be allowed to purchase the food. You cannot send anyone else to use your checks, unless their signature is also on your booklet. To add someone as a "proxy" for your checks (to shop on your behalf), they will have to be verified through the WIC program. WIC takes fraud and misuse very seriously. If you are found guilty of WIC fraud, it will affect your eligibility for other government food programs, such as the food stamp program SNAP. You may also have to pay large fines.
Every few months, you will need to check in at your WIC office. Sometimes you will need to sit in a nutrition class. Other times, your and your baby's height, weight and blood iron levels will be tested. You will also be required to recertify every 6 months to attest that you still meet the income levels necessary to participate in WIC.
Nutritional classes have an education focus and may cover topics like cooking or preparing meals, making healthy food choices, and getting your family to accept healthy changes in their diet. There are also pregnancy and breastfeeding resources available through WIC.
Who Can Participate?
Mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children under five years of age are eligible to participate in WIC. About six months after you give birth, your time on WIC will end, although your child will continue to receive checks. Find your state WIC office here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/Contacts/statealpha.HTM