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WIC: A Pathway to Long-Term Success

Posted by Brandon Lipps, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services in Food and Nutrition
Jul 29, 2021
Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Brandon Lipps speaking at the National WIC Association Leadership Conference
Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Brandon Lipps speaks at the National WIC Association Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

The value of a healthy start in life cannot be overstated. It’s what everyone deserves and is a critical foundation for a successful and self-sufficient future. At USDA, we deliver on that promise, by ensuring healthy beginnings through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC.

WIC provides vital pre- and post-natal services to millions of moms, infants, and young children through our state partners each year. The program offers nutritious foods, nutrition education, including breastfeeding promotion and support, and referrals to other health and social services to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant women, postpartum mothers, infants and young children up to the age of five.

At USDA, we possess a great deal of concrete data and historical knowledge about the benefits of the program; yet to better understand the everyday challenges and experiences of our WIC customers, we did what makes the most sense—talked with them.

Over the past few months, I have participated in a series of roundtable meetings with WIC directors, participants, retailers, and other partners from across the United States. They provided ideas on how to enhance the program for participants, and how to better support state and local agency staff. The robust conversation touched on many aspects of WIC, including ways USDA can partner with state and local agencies to improve customer service.

WIC, which provides prescribed food packages tailored to the supplemental needs of women, infants, and children at nutritional risk, is unlike any of our federal nutrition assistance programs. It serves as a gateway to good health for many participants, at critical points in their lives. With the extensive level of service provided to each individual comes unique challenges. During our most recent roundtables we heard from local agencies as well as retailers and technology partners who work tirelessly to serve their customers and support WIC participants.

We also received valuable input concerning transportation barriers faced by rural and urban clients, challenges participants experience during the retail experience, as well as cultural sensitivities. By addressing the obstacles our clients and partners face, we will be able to better connect families with the access and tools they need to become self-sufficient.

A common topic that arose among both retailers and WIC staff included the role technology plays in enhancing services to families. We learned how some states employ mobile apps to improve the retail experience, and how a growing number of states and retailers benefit from the use of WIC electronic benefits or EBT. Roundtable participants expressed an eagerness to work with USDA to continue leveraging new technology and promote innovation to improve service for participants.

Engaging in dialogue with our stakeholders enables us to hear and respond to our customers’ feedback. This investment ensures WIC grows healthy kids, one family at a time.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Gerde Ramos
Mar 26, 2019

As of today 3/26/10, is WIC still available for eligible participants in California?

Ben Weaver
Mar 27, 2019

@Gerde Ramos - thank you for your comment and interest. Yes, WIC is available for eligible participants in California.

Deanna Miller
May 24, 2019

Hi, can you specifically say why the WIC program strongly recommends destroying returned baby formula now? The formula is unopened and inspected by health county workers for damage, tampering and sell-by dates. And these are vacuum sealed containers that were never/need to be refrigerated. What is the actual data that supports this new policy recommendation?

Ben Weaver
May 29, 2019

@Deanna Miller - thank you for your comment. A WIC local agency or clinic is not permitted to reissue returned infant formula to another WIC participant. WIC State agencies are encouraged to develop policies designed to help avoid or minimize infant formula returns.

FNS does not recommend donating returned WIC formula to outside entities, such as a food bank or shelter.

FNS recommends that WIC state agencies seek legal counsel on issues related to returned infant formula to consider their sole source rebate contract agreement(s) and any applicable health and safety regulations or laws. FNS consulted with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this issue.

WIC state and local agencies cannot ensure that returned infant formula was stored properly or handled correctly while outside the clinic’s control. In particular, returned infant formula may have been:

  • Inappropriately stored, e.g., exposed to extremely high temperatures;
  • Held past its use-by-date;
  • Physically damaged, e.g., dents, openings to the packaging/container (including the seal and lid); or
  • Subjected to tampering, e.g., labels or use-by-dates changed, or contents replaced with other substances.

Such conditions could lead to compromised nutrient content, which would impact the product’s safety as well as potentially threaten the health of WIC’s nutritionally at-risk participants. They could also pose a safety concern with regard to microbial contamination, foreign objects, etc. Further, distribution of the returned product could lead to potential liability on the part of the WIC state or local agency, clinic, or staff.