The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC, is a federal public health nutrition program that provides food assistance, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals for pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children up to age 5. WIC services are provided at a number of locations throughout Missouri, including county health departments, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers. Research shows that access to nutrition during pregnancy and in the first few years of life has long-term impacts on health.
In addition to breastfeeding support and health care referrals, WIC provides eligible households with food benefits that can be redeemed at WIC-approved stores to help families pay for groceries and infant formula. Until recently, WIC benefits were provided to families every month on paper vouchers. However, in 2020, Missouri transitioned to an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system called e-WIC. WIC families now receive their benefits on a card, which allows for more convenient and discreet transactions at the grocery store.
For many families, WIC provides a positive experience, saving them from the stress of not having enough food on the table. More importantly, WIC has proven it works, with numerous studies supporting that WIC improves overall nutrition, breastfeeding attitudes, and health outcomes of recipients. However, WIC participation among eligible women, infants, and children has been declining over the last decade, especially in Missouri. In fact, despite a global pandemic increasing economic hardship on families across the nation, Missouri saw the second most severe decline in participation from February 2020 to February 2021. As 12.5% of Missouri’s total population experienced food insecurity in 2020, this lack of participation speaks volumes.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued decline in participation, the sense of urgency to address the limitations of the WIC program intensified nationwide. The American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March 2021 earmarked $390 million in WIC Outreach, Innovation, and Modernization funds. With renewed interest in the WIC program, the time is ripe to reimagine the WIC program and bring forth innovation to improve enrollment in Missouri.
In order to better understand the benefits and barriers of WIC in Missouri, Operation Food Search (OFS) is embarking on a multi-year research study designed to identify pain points from each stakeholder that impede WIC satisfaction and utilization. The goal is to increase overall utilization of WIC in Missouri with special emphasis on the one to four population that is least likely to maintain benefits. Our research will be transformed into innovative program and policy solutions to create a program that works better for everyone.
Follow along with our research! You can follow along as we travel the state talking with stakeholders about WIC in their community. We’ll be sharing updates and lessons learned on our Twitter @OFSFoodAdvocate.
To learn more about our WIC Innovation Project and other policy priorities, visit operationfoodsearch.org/advocacy.
For more information on WIC updates, eligibility, and applications, visit here.