Bill Would Close WIC Gap and Ensure Nearly 600,000 Children Nationwide Maintain Access to Nutrition Services
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bill to extend nutrition assistance for vulnerable infants, children and mothers across the country. The Wise Investment in our Children (WIC) Act would address a gap in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) that kicks young children off vital nutrition assistance before they are eligible to start school. The WIC Act would also give states the option to certify infants and postpartum mothers for two years, which would reduce duplicative paperwork and allow program administrators to focus on providing services such as nutrition counseling and breastfeeding support. U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03) and Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) introduced the companion bill in the House of Representatives.
At-risk children are eligible for the WIC program up to age five, at which point many enter public school where they may qualify for school breakfast and lunch programs that help supplement their intake of nutritious foods. However, a significant number of children remain ineligible to start school well past their fifth birthday—sometimes for as much as a full year. Children who age off WIC at five years old, and are unable to enroll in public school, may experience a gap in access to nutritious foods. By closing the WIC gap, nearly 600,000 children nationwide will maintain access to WIC’s nutrition services ensuring they receive a strong, healthy nutritional foundation.
“As millions of families are struggling financially due to the pandemic, new mothers and young children should not be burdened with lack of access to healthy foods. The long-term benefits of nutrition for children are immeasurable—when children are well nourished early in life they’re healthier and do better in school,” said Senator Casey. “By closing the WIC gap and expanding food benefits to age 6, we can help ensure more than 10,000 children in Pennsylvania do not experience a nutritional disadvantage simply because of their birthdate.”
“The WIC program ensures that millions of women, infants, and children—including 16,000 in Maine—are getting the proper nutrition they need to grow and be healthy,” said Senator Collins. “The WIC Act would take important steps to keep eligible new mothers and young children enrolled in this successful and cost-effective nutrition program. By giving states the flexibility to address the WIC gap and reduce burdensome barriers to participation, our bipartisan bill builds upon the program’s proven ability to improve maternal and child well-being and health outcomes.”
“As our nation continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, we also face an economic crisis that has left too many families struggling to obtain the food and nutrition that kids need,” said Representative DeLauro. “As one of the wealthiest nations in the world, no child should go hungry. The pandemic has shone a light on a problem that has existed for decades: as effective as WIC is, it currently provides nutrition services only up to a child’s fifth birthday. Since each school district has their own cut-off date for kindergarten eligibility, many children do not enter school until well after their fifth birthday—creating an alarming nutrition gap. With schools closed and the national school meal program under more strain than ever, that gap is even wider. That is why, I am proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation to fix this problem alongside my distinguished colleagues in the House and the Senate and with the strong support of the National WIC Association.”
“The WIC program is one of the main tools to offer nutrition services and increase food security in our communities. As of September 2020, Puerto Rico WIC has 100,581 total participants, which includes 61,000 children, 19,106 infants, and 20,475 women. This bill seeks to eliminate nutrition gaps for children and increase support for postpartum women by extending assistance and coverage periods, thus ensuring WIC participants are properly supported. I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill, and will continue working alongside my colleagues to push it across the finish line,” said Representative González-Colón.
“Providing our families with a continuous model of care delivers a consistent message: ‘WIC is here for you!’” said Carrie Dinsmore, president of the Pennsylvania WIC Association. “WIC continues to see income-eligible children leave the program at age one. Removing the one-year recertification appointment, which helps keep children on WIC until at least age two, is a smart investment. The one-year milestone is an exciting transition – children are learning to walk, talk, and eat more table foods, and WIC mothers, fathers, grandparents, and foster parents need continued support. The WIC Act’s extension of infant certification periods opens more opportunity to support health and wellness, investing more time in providing nutrition education and helping families seek medical and community needs.”
The WIC Act has broad support, including from the following organizations: the National WIC Association, Alliance to End Hunger, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Feeding America, Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), Share Our Strength PA, Pennsylvania WIC Association, Community Health Services, Inc. WIC Program, PA and The Foundation for Delaware County, PA.
Read more about the WIC Act here.