WIC helps mothers and children eat. But it’s not always easy to find what you need


Bianca Williams was tired of trying to find a store that either accepted federal food benefits for low-income mothers and their children or a store that carried quality products.

So the Milwaukee resident — who has seven children, two of whom are currently breastfeeding — decided in November that she would turn to frozen Thanksgiving leftovers and meals from family and friends.

The Walmart closest to Williams closed in 2016. Since then, he said, WIC can become “a lot more troublesome.”

“Sometimes, to be honest, I don’t even use it,” said Williams, who makes about $7 a month too much to qualify for food stamps, “because getting to the grocery store— It’s very hard to go and find stuff.” Seller who accepts (WIC).”

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Unlike food stamps, WIC-approved items cannot be purchased online, although some states are working on pilot programs to make this a reality. Complex requirements make it difficult for smaller stores – and sometimes big-name grocers – to participate in WIC. Some states are trying to expand access after vendors left over the past five years due to program changes or closures during the pandemic.

Ann Sanders, director of public benefits policy and programs, said, “This is really a program, at least in our area, that a large-scale grocer can participate in.” pennsylvania Nonprofit Just Harvest. Since 2019, 353 sellers in the state have incurred net losses.

Although both are under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, WIC is different from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, because SNAP participants can purchase almost any grocery item they want – nutritional value. Regardless of. With WIC, states use federal guidelines to select the products and quantities that vendors are required to carry; Brands commonly found on the WIC-approved list include Cheerios, Juicy Juice, and Similac.

Many small stores participate in WIC because community members need help, but it can come at a cost, according to the National Grocers Association, which lobbies for independent stores.

“It’s not going to be a huge moneymaker for them by any means,” said Stephanie Johnson, the association’s vice president of government relations. He added that some people “even lose money by participating in WIC.”

The WIC program is making a slow transition from paper vouchers to electronic benefits, known as eWIC. It’s easier for shoppers, but stores have to spend money on upgrading cash registers, which is Georgia Some people had to leave the program.

Michael Gay, who owns Food Fresh, the only grocery store in rural Claxton, Georgia, said eWIC “takes a lot of time to register” to find out which items are eligible. Despite this and other disappointments, he has stuck to the program. Because, “I want you to have it…I want to sell it, and I want your kid to eat it.”

National chains also don’t always participate in WIC. Aldi doesn’t do this because it only stocks its own brand formulas. Trader Joe’s told The Associated Press in a statement that most of its products do not meet WIC’s brand or size criteria.

About half of Target stores accept WIC, said spokesman Brian Harper-Tibaldo, because of the variety of sizes and layouts. Smaller stores may not have enough shelf space to meet minimum storage requirements, he said.

Ashley Yancey recently tried to find formula for her daughter at a Target about 30 miles from her home in Douglasville, Georgia, and she was stunned that the location didn’t accept WIC. Often, the WIC vendor closest to her doesn’t have the product.

“It’s a little embarrassing,” she said of her attempt to use WIC at a Target store. “Because it’s like, are you too good to get WIC? Are you looking at me like I’m poor?”

Yancey does not have a car, and prefers the freedom of doing most of her grocery shopping online, where she can use her SNAP benefits; USDA began testing online SNAP purchases in 2019 and expanded it during the pandemic.

“It’s hard that I can’t get my milk like that,” she said. “I have to borrow someone’s car to find milk, but I cannot find it. “It’s inconvenient that they don’t take WIC online.”

USDA is reviewing comments on a proposed rule that would remove barriers to online shopping such as not requiring Cashier To be present for WIC transactions. The agency has also partnered with the nonprofit Nutrition Center and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe to conduct online shopping in seven states. Major retailers Walmart and Hy-Vee are participating in some locations.

Ali Hard, policy director for the National WIC Association, said, “I think states want to look at (online shopping), I think they know it will make a big difference for their participants, and I think retailers too. This includes.” , which is an advocacy group and frequent federal partner. “It’s a huge equity issue if WIC participants can’t buy their groceries the same way everyone else can.”

In states that have seen significant reductions in the number of WIC stores, officials say the impact has been most pronounced in rural areas. louisiana Lost 68 WIC vendors since 2019, and is working on a recruitment plan for stores.

“We want to focus more on rural areas and determine where there might be a store that we can interact with,” said Jennifer Nicklas, director of the Bureau of Nutrition Services. “Some of this happens naturally when we know we already have an existing relationship with the store… It will really help us develop the space where we want to have those conversations. ”

In new HampshireMinimum inventory requirements were kept small, leaving more rural stores out of the program, so the state decided those stores would no longer be allowed to sell items like juice concentrates and pureed meats for babies, said Haley McCleary of the state Bureau of Family Health and Nutrition. Things will not have to be carried.

“I think partnerships and vendor certifications are really linked… Food shopping, we all know, should be convenient,” said Rebecca White, associate of public and government affairs for Hanover Co-op Food Stores in New Hampshire. Said. Vermont, “People will buy foods based on their schedule and their lifestyle.”

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright 2024 The associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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