WIC Program in California What is WIC, Who Funds It and Who Does it Benefit?

WIC is a supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). It is administered by each state but funded primarily by federal grants to provide nutritional services and food supplements to low-income pregnant or postpartum (after giving birth) women, and to children up to age five. It is not a fixed entitlement program, but rather one that must be funded periodically by Congress and the states.

Begun in 1974, WIC has proven to be one of the most successful nutritional and food-aid programs of the federal government. The principal benefits include:

  • Longer and healthier pregnancies
  • Reduced infant mortality
  • Better prenatal care
  • Healthier children because of better medical care and immunizations
  • Better childhood nutrition
  • Better academic performance

California Stats

Nationally, WIC served over 8 million women, infants and children in 2014—more than half of the infants in the country. Sixteen percent of the national total was in California, with over 1.3 million people assisted. The average monthly benefit per person was just over $47.

The California Department of  Public Health administers the WIC program and has offices across the state. Application can be done online. For a list of the hundreds of local and regional offices, from Siskiyou County in the north to Imperial County in the south, click here.

Who is Eligible?

  • Pregnant women
  • Postpartum women
  • Breastfeeding women
  • Children up to age 5
  • People who meet income guidelines
  • State residents
  • People who are at “nutritional risk”

At “nutritional risk” generally includes medical risks (diabetes, anemia, severely underweight) and dietary risk (inability to obtain proper nutrition for whatever reason). These risks are based on federal guidelines and must be assessed by a health professional. Screening is free.

An applicant’s gross income must be at or less than 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income guidelines. For example, a household of four must have an annual income of $44,863 or less (as of 2014). A household includes anyone living in your home who shares household expenses. This may include people who are NOT relatives. States can set lower guidelines of their own.

In California, being enrolled in another program does not disqualify one from enrolling in WIC. Examples of such programs include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Food Stamps, CalFresh, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), Medicaid or Medi-Cal, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

In the application process, the office through which you are applying can make the determination of whether you are eligible. You should have one or more documents at your application to prove:

  • Residency
  • Identity (of mother and child)
  • Other state benefits
  • Pregnancy

There is no minimum time requirement for residency in California to be eligible for application to WIC.

Is Everybody Accepted to WIC?

In a word—NO. There is not enough money. When an office has reached its maximum caseload, priorities are given to applicants based on the most immediate need, such as pregnant women, infants at risk, or serious medical problems. For a complete list of the priority levels, click here.

How Do You Obtain Food Through WIC?

The California WIC program uses vouchers, checks or an EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card issued to participants. The list of foods that are available for purchase through WIC is intended as a supplement to a participant’s diet, not to restrict the diet only to approved foods, to control one’s diet, or to supply an entire diet. In general, though, the list is populated by healthier food choices than heavily processed or fast foods.

The list includes but is not limited to:

  • Dairy products
  • Dried fruits and vegetables
  • Canned fish
  • Baby foods
  • Healthy cereals
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Eggs

For a more complete list, click here.

For women who cannot or do not prefer to breast feed, WIC provides for iron-fortified baby formula. And for people who have access to farmer’s markets, WIC has a Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program so participants can take full nutritional advantage of including fresh fruits and vegetables in their diets.

Special food/nutritional requests can be approved through each local WIC office.

In its first years, WIC served 88,000 people nationally per month. That number has grown to over 8 million. The benefits are demonstrable and enormous: healthier mothers and infants, more childhood immunizations, better K-12 academic achievements, and lower costs for Medicaid and other government-sponsored health programs.

Please use the resources cited below for general information about the WIC program nationally, and specifically in California.

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