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USDA report: Around half of those eligible for WIC in 2021 received benefits

Only half of people eligible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) receive benefits from it, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report released Friday has found.
Only 6.2 million, or 51 percent, of the 12.1 million Americans eligible for the program in 2021 actually received benefits, according to the report.
It also said that children eligible for the program were the least likely group to receive benefits from it, at 43 percent, versus infants, who had the highest percentage of eligible people for the program receiving benefits, at 78 percent.
WIC is a federal grant program funded annually by Congress. It targets pregnant women, breastfeeding women, nonbreastfeeding postpartum women, and children up to their fifth birthday. Benefits for those in the program include nutritious food, education, and counseling, and help with referrals to other safety net services.
Stacy Dean, the deputy under secretary for the USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services said in an interview with The Hill that the report’s finding on benefit recipients is a sign that more of an effort should be made to connect with those who may need the program.
“So, that tells us we’re not where we want to be,” Dean said.
“[The] 2021 results are consistent, really, with — pretty consistent with what we saw in 2020 and before, so it’s not shocking news, but it’s really, it’s a reminder of how important it is that we lean in and connect WIC to eligible families,” Dean continued.
Other findings in the report included higher percentages of WIC eligibility in 2021 in some regions of the country versus others. The Southeast had the highest percentage, at 22.5 percent, followed by the Southwest at 19.6 percent. The region with the least eligibility in 2021 was the Northeast, at 9 percent.
“I don’t know that it’s regional in the sense that — I think the real issue is that a big part of what it takes to connect to eligibles is the leadership and political will,” Dean said when asked about why some areas of the country may have more or less WIC coverage.
Dean also noted that the report’s findings are indicative of the need to “modernize” WIC and make it more accessible.
“[O]bviously there’s overall outreach and making sure that those who aren’t participating know about it and know about its benefits, so that they can make an informed choice,” Dean said.
“The second thing is to just ease the enrollment process,” Dean continued. “So individuals who are participating in Medicaid or SNAP, they actually are financially — they pre-qualify for WIC, so how are we data-sharing to passport them over … and tell them about WIC’s benefits to say, ‘Hey, you’re eligible.’”



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