WIC participants could benefit from proposed changes to program that happen once every 10 years
The USDA is accepting public comment on proposed updates that happen once every decade to the food packages used by participants of the Supplementary Special Nutrition Program—WIC.
“I do know what you can receive on WIC today is completely different than 10 years ago. They’ve added more things since then. But I wasn’t aware about anything with the USDA,” said Shamonica Wiggins-Mayes, a mother of a one-year-old son and a pre-teen daughter.
Her children are about ten years apart and she notes that the food package items available now with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are significantly different.
This is due in part to the changes the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service makes to food packages about once every decade.
The USDA is now open to public comment on the proposed changes in hopes to gather engagement and voices on what WIC clients desire.
Nationally, the WIC program serves over 6 million.
In a press release from November 2022, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “USDA is committed to advancing maternal and child health through WIC, helping mothers, babies and young kids. These proposed changes will strengthen WIC – already an incredibly powerful program.”
Local impact of USDA changes
These changes will significantly impact the current 71,635 participants of the city of Dallas’ WIC Program—an increase of almost 10,000 participants from January 2020—just months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Dallas, 45% of WIC benefits are received by children under the age of 5, followed by infants and breastfeeding parents.
Although WIC clients can participate in open comments, local offices are not informing them they can make public comments with the USDA.
"It's not in our scope or purview to announce that to participants at the at the state level and definitely not at the local level," said Alli Borrego, interim program manager with the city of Dallas' WIC.
If WIC participants are interested in knowing more about the option for open comment, employees in Dallas offices are well equipped to handle these inquiries, according to Borrego.
WIC participation rates are high among WIC-eligible Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black residents and seek to reduce racial disparities in maternal health.
The USDA says the changes that will be seen with food packages are on par with the latest nutrition science and support equitable access to nutritious foods.
Local WIC participants and clients are seeing some changes with pilot programs, Borrego said, and clients have enjoyed the access so far. The program has increased the fruit and vegetable benefit-dollar allowance.
"They are so happy to have that increased benefit...they are encouraged to provide more fruits and vegetables, but this allows them to be able to, explore different fruits and different vegetables that they might not otherwise try."
The city of Dallas WIC Program has a partnership with Grow Texas Farmers Market where their participants can utilize their current benefits and also receive an additional $30 in fruit and vegetable.
"It's our honor to encourage health and wellness through nutrition and breastfeeding education and support for Dallas families," Borrego said.
The USDA continues to accept public comment online through February 21st.
These proposed changes include:
- Increased support for breastfeeding parents and families.
- Expanding whole grain options to include foods like quinoa and blue cornmeal, and to accommodate individual or cultural dietary needs and preferences.
- Providing more non-dairy substitutions and lactose-free milk options to be offered.
- Improve access to canned fish.
- Increase fruit and vegetable benefit dollar amount by three to four times.
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