What is WIC?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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WIC stands for women, infants and children, and is a US federally funded program that helps people at or below 185% of the poverty line acquire certain types of food. The program began in 1974, and now operates in all 50 states, Guam, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the US held Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth Islands of the Northern Marianas. It also has offices available to over 30 Native American Tribal Organizations.

Those eligible for WIC are infants and children to the age of five and pregnant women. They must be considered “at nutritional risk,” and must qualify for the program financially. It’s fairly easy to meet the first requirement if your income is low because it is harder to get foods that are nutritionally sound if you have a low income. WIC essentially disburses checks, which people use at local grocery stores to purchase certain types of food, and the organization maintains a list of the foods that can be purchased, making it different than food stamps. Food stamps will allow you to purchase any types of food (except alcohol), but WIC is much more limited in scope.

Example foods that you can purchase with WIC disbursements include milk, cheese, iron fortified cereal, infant formula, certain fruits, fruit juices, peanut butter and tuna. These food lists may change from time to time. The main goal is to provide foods that have high quantities of Vitamins A and C or that are high in iron.


In order to qualify for WIC, you must be able to prove current income level, and this may be assessed on a yearly basis to assure continued eligibility. Most people apply through local offices, and may go through an interview process with an employee, where they are instructed on how to use their checks, and how to make nutritionally sound choices, once approved for the program. The organization may also approve greater or lesser amounts of support depending upon income level and nutrition needs.

Although the organization most often allows you to use your local grocery stores for purchase, some branches still distribute food via warehouses with either pick/up or delivery options for qualifying families. This is becoming less common, and most large chain grocery stores now readily take the checks, though in the past this wasn’t always the case. Cost can be an issue. If you shop at a higher priced store that takes the checks, you might not be able to stretch your purchases of food as high as they can go.

You can apply for WIC if you meet income requirements and you have a child under the age of five, and if your income doesn’t change, you should be aware that many school districts use the same type of income requirements which allow children access to free or significantly reduced price hot lunches. This can help continue nutrition support for children in low-income environments. Lunch and sometimes breakfast programs can also operate throughout the year, and may not be limited to the school year only.


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