WIC Program Faces Major Funding Cuts: Congress is Looking to Gut Resources to Support Pregnant Moms, Babies, and Young Children

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Nearly 56,000 Arkansans participated in the WIC program during 2020 (the most recent year for which data is available). However, since then enrollment and participation have been increasing.

Congress has made a mess by failing to review and update the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) since they last did in 2010. This bill authorizes many important nutrition programs including WIC. It was supposed to be reassessed and renewed in 2015, but we’re still waiting eight years later. By kicking this can down the road and only funding WIC through appropriations Congress has now put WIC in a billion-dollar deficit.

And to fund other budget items, they want to cut the fresh fruit and vegetable benefits that participants receive and/or reduce the number of people who will have access to the program. This could mean that 52,000 WIC participants in Arkansas could see their monthly fresh fruit and vegetable benefits decrease to $9 for each child and $11 for each adult. Or it could mean that by September 2024 19,000 eligible participants could be turned away. Or potentially both. This will be a disaster for Arkansas’s families and exacerbate the poor health outcomes for pregnant women and infants. Congress needs to fully fund WIC now to make sure that this proven program is available to all eligible participants.

Families enrolled in WIC are at nutritional risk and must earn less than 185% of the poverty guidelines. WIC participants depend on the nutrition and health services WIC provides. This program is essential to good health outcomes for pregnant women and babies. Particularly here in Arkansas where we have the highest food insecurity nationwide, the third highest infant mortality rate, and the highest maternal mortality rate, Arkansas families cannot afford the WIC program to be gutted.

WIC is primarily a health program. They provide targeted food packages to participants that include the specific nutrition that they need. More than that, WIC provides health services and screenings. Participants have access to nurses, nutritionists, family consumer sciences experts, and more. In Arkansas, we have failed to expand Medicaid for postpartum women from its current 60 days to one year. This many women have no access to healthcare past their six-week checkup after delivery. WIC is making sure that health professionals are available in that critical first year for moms and babies to help improve their health outcomes.

National research shows that WIC:

  • Reduces premature births.
  • Reduces low- and very low-birthweight babies.
  • Reduces fetal and infant deaths.
  • Reduces the incidence of low iron anemia.
  • Increases access to prenatal care earlier in pregnancy.
  • Increases pregnant women’s consumption of key nutrients such as iron, protein, calcium, and Vitamins A and C.
  • Increases immunization rates.
  • Improves diet quality.
  • Increases access to regular health care.

And we know that the long-term health benefits of participating in WIC carry into adulthood.