What is the issue?
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) was established in 1974 to safeguard the nutrition and health of vulnerable low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and young children up to age 5 years. The program emerged to safeguard nutrition and health status at particularly vulnerable moments—pregnancy and infancy—in the life cycle. Studies pointed out the special health risks that low-income women and infants faced at those times, including premature and low-weight births, anemia and other conditions.
WIC has long been acknowledged as a public health success. The WIC program has been shown to reduce premature births, incidence of low birth weight and infant mortality, and to improve access to prenatal care. It has been estimated that for every $1.00 invested in WIC, $1.77 to $3.33 is saved in health care costs during the first two months of an infant’s life.
Given these accomplishments, WIC has experienced impressive growth: currently over half of infants and one-quarter of young children in the U.S. participate in WIC. Unique compared to all other federal nutrition assistance programs, WIC benefits include more than just food. Participants also receive education, resources and referrals on healthy eating, physical activity, breastfeeding, immunization and more.
Despite a long history of bipartisan support, WIC faces the threat of potential budget cuts, barriers to enrollment and block-granting. The basic structure of block grants makes them vulnerable to funding reductions over time as it is easy for states to divert funding to other purposes. In recent decades, for example, the major housing, health and social service programs that have been block-granted have lost nearly half of their funding.