National WIC Association

Ongoing USDA-ERS WIC Studies

Project Name, Principle Investigator, and Expected Report(s) Publication Project Description
Price Variability Across WIC Foods
Principle Investigator: Loren Bell, Altarum Institute
Expected Completion Date: 2018
There is interest in better understanding the choices that WIC participants make in selecting their WIC foods and the stores where they shop. For example, within the choices offered, do WIC participants tend to purchase the most expensive item, the least expensive, or an average-price item? Do WIC participants tend to purchase some items at more-expensive stores? How do WIC participants’ choices compare to the choices participants make when using other sources of payment, or to the choices that non-participants make? This study will use WIC EBT redemption data to explore cost variations within and between WIC vendors, and to examine whether WIC participants show greater tendencies to purchase the lower cost, higher cost, or average cost foods within each food category.
Non-Price Competition and Participant Satisfaction in the California WIC Program
Principle Investigator: Patrick McLaughlin, Economic Research Service
Expected Completion Date: 2018
Cost-containment and customer experience in WIC is an ongoing issue. The quality of participant experience is especially important, as caseload numbers have fallen in recent years. Many cost-containment measures aim to restrict the behavior of authorized vendors—for example, limiting redemptions paid to certain vendors or enacting moratoria on new vendor authorization—although the implications for food access in redeeming WIC food benefits and the overall quality of participant experience are unclear. This study will examine how A50 vendors—authorized WIC vendors with 50 percent or more of total food sales derived from WIC transactions—in California impact redemption costs and participant travel costs. It will also assess the impact on access from a surge in new vendor authorization preceding a moratorium on new vendor authorization enacted (and since lifted) in mid-2012.
Spatial Variation in WIC Redemption Rates: Evidence from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Principle Investigator: Michelle Saksena, Economic Research Service
Expected Completion Date: 2018
Geographical variation in food prices has important implications for the buying power of the WIC cash value voucher. However, most WIC-authorized foods are obtained through the redemption of WIC quantity-based vouchers. While the WIC program features a number of provisions to keep food costs in check, there remains a great deal of variation in redemption values. This study will examine spatial variation in WIC redemption rates across markets in the greater Los Angeles (LA) area and measure correlations between average redemption rates and key demographic factors.
The Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding
Principle Investigator: Victor Oliveira, Economic Research Service
Expected Completion Date: 2019
Breastfeeding is widely acknowledged to be the preferred method of feeding infants, conferring a number of health benefits to both infant and mother. By improving the health of mothers and infants, breastfeeding also provides economic benefits. Direct benefits result when better infant and maternal health from breastfeeding leads to lower health care costs by reducing physician fees, hospital costs, prescription drugs, etc. Improved health from breastfeeding can result in indirect benefits when it reduces lost wages associated with caring for sick infants. Economic benefits also result from fewer premature deaths. This study will examine the economic benefits of increasing the prevalence of breastfeeding to clinically recommended rates, with a focus on WIC.
WIC and the Retail Markup of Infant Formula
Principle Investigator: Victor Oliveira, Economic Research Service
Expected Completion Date: 2019
Federal law requires that WIC state agencies operate a cost-containment system for the purchase of infant formula. Most WIC state agencies obtain rebates from the infant formula manufacturers. Contracts are awarded to the manufacturer offering the WIC state agency the lowest net price (as determined by the manufacturer’s wholesale price minus the rebate). The cost to WIC for each can of formula sold through the program has two components: the net price (which is determined by the infant formula manufacturers) and the retail markup (which is determined by the retailers). This study will examine the retail markup of the formula purchased through WIC.
State Variation in WIC Food Package Costs: The Role of Prices, Caseload Composition, and Cost-Containment Practices
Principle Investigator: David Davis, South Dakota State University
Expected Completion Date: 2019
This project will examine the role of food prices, caseload composition, and cost-containment practices on WIC food package costs. The project will use IRI (maybe spell out) scanner data on consumer prices and purchases, FNS administrative data on state-level caseload composition and average monthly food package costs for FY 2010-2012, and information on types and brands of WIC-approved foods and other cost-containment practices.
Trends in the Availability, Cost, and Demand for Whole-Wheat Bread Following the Revision of WIC food Packages
Principle Investigator: Hayden Stewart, Economic Research Service
Expected Completion Date: 2019
In 2009, in order to increase whole grains consumption, USDA added whole-wheat bread in 16-oz loaves to some WIC food packages. Participating women may receive a monthly allowance of one pound, and children receive two pounds. When this revision was made in 2009, few manufacturers offered 16-oz packages; most bread came in 20- or 24-oz loaves. This study will examine trends in bread purchases several years after the 2009 revisions to determine to what extent WIC-authorized 16-oz loaves have become more widely available. It will also examine how price trends for these loaves compare with price trends for the larger loaves that predominated prior to 2009. Lastly, it will examine the degree to which WIC participants choose whole-wheat bread when they use their WIC benefits, and choose refined-grain breads when paying out of cash.
Benefit Redemption Patterns and Cost of WIC Food Package
Principle Investigator: Xinzhe Cheng, Economic Research Service
Expected Completion Date: 2019
WIC average food package costs vary widely by state. It is unknown how much of this variation is due to the type of store where WIC participants shop. WIC participants have little incentive to shop for lower-priced food because they are provided with food instruments that specify a basket of food items and do not specify a dollar limit. This study will examine the extent to which the distribution of WIC redemptions across different store types contributes to state-to-state variation in food package costs. Specific questions to be addressed include: (1) Where are WIC benefits being redeemed? (2) How has that pattern changed over time? (3) How do limited access areas affect redemption patterns? and (4) What is the relationship of redemption patterns to average state-level WIC food package costs?