You might be surprised by how many infants and children receive benefits through WIC. More than half of all infants and more than a quarter of all children up to age 5 participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children—better known as WIC. Because WIC is a means-tested program, these statistics can seem astonishing. Could it really be true that half of all infants in the United States are born into low-income families?
Statistics from a recently published Food and Nutrition Service report confirm that nearly half (49.8 percent) of all infants are born into families below 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines—the cutoff for WIC income eligibility. (From July 2011 to June 2012, 185 percent of the poverty guidelines equaled $41,348 for a family of four.) Another 12.0 percent of infants are eligible because they participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps), Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Among children age 1 to 4, a slightly smaller share, 44.3 percent, are eligible for WIC due to income and another 9.8 percent are eligible due to participation in another program.
Infants and Children by WIC Eligibility Type, CY 2009
Source: Betson et al. (2011)
WIC’s reach is extensive and studies suggest that WIC dollars translate into cost savings on government health spending. Those not already familiar with WIC should know that it provides select foods, nutrition education, and referrals for health care and government services. You can learn more about the WIC program in this recently published brief: WIC Participants and Their Growing Need for Coverage.