WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier today, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is publishing a proposed rule to revise food packages issued through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC provides a monthly benefit for healthy foods, coupled with individualized nutrition services, that reach over 6.3 million pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children across the country.
USDA’s commitment to revise the WIC food packages is a key component of the White House’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. In 2009, USDA implemented the first science-based revisions to promote alignment between WIC food packages and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). The 2009 revisions introduced fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to the food packages and are associated with healthier outcomes for WIC participants, including a 9 percent reduction in childhood obesity for WIC-enrolled toddlers between 2010 and 2018.
Building on the progress of the 2009 food package changes, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required that USDA conduct a similar science-based review every decade. In 2017, an expert panel of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) issued recommendations that encouraged higher issuance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seafood – among other changes – to promote alignment with the DGAs and boost delivery of priority nutrients to WIC’s target population. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and subsequent bipartisan appropriations legislation drew from the NASEM recommendations to bolster WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefit, enhancing the purchasing power of WIC families.
As announced today, the proposed rule would permanently increase the Cash Value Benefit to reflect 50% of DGA-recommended fruit and vegetable intake, add monthly issuance of seafood across food packages, increase cultural whole grain options, include new substitution patterns and expand package size flexibility to improve participant access to WIC foods, and provide flexibility to strengthen breastfeeding outcomes.
As USDA solicits comments and input on the proposed standards for the WIC food packages, a broad coalition of food and nutrition leaders, medical and public health providers, industry partners, WIC participants, and other community stakeholders has praised this proactive step to improve WIC’s public health impact and deliver on the White House’s dual goals of reducing hunger and curbing chronic diet- related disease:
“USDA’s action today to revise the WIC food packages underlines what the White House made clear in their National Strategy: WIC will play a critical role in building a healthier future for families. WIC’s targeted nutrition intervention is already proven to reduce healthcare costs, close nutrient intake disparities, and improve health outcomes for low-income families and communities of color. The proposed revisions will build on this strong record of public health success by following independent, evidence-based recommendations from the National Academies. We applaud USDA’s thoughtful steps to strengthen WIC by enhancing the value of benefits for underconsumed food groups like fruits and vegetables, strengthening nutrition standards to improve whole grain intake and decrease consumption of added sugars and saturated fats, and expanding healthy choices through package size flexibility and inclusion of a broader range of cultural foods. We strongly urge our members and the broader WIC and public health communities to actively engage in the comment process as we build a healthier future for America’s next generation,” said Dr. Jamila Taylor, PhD, President and CEO of the National WIC Association (NWA).
“The proposed rule released by USDA on the WIC food packages is a win for food and nutrition security for the over six million WIC participants. With the increase in the overall value of the WIC benefit and updated food packages that align with current nutrition science, including the 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommendations and the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, these updates maintain WIC's role as a strong public health nutrition program. We are pleased to see that these changes align with our policy recommendations from our Strengthening Child Nutrition Programs report released earlier this year,” said former Agriculture Secretaries Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman in a joint statement.
“It is a great day for WIC families across this country to see the release of these proposed updates. The changes to the WIC food package that will come from this rule change reflect both the scientifically sound recommendations put forth by the National Academies and the important changes WIC families want to see: more fruits and vegetable, more options and more choice,” said Shannon Whaley, PhD, Director of Research and Evaluation at PHFE WIC.
“The new WIC food package rule is grounded in a strong evidence-based report from a National Academy of Medicine consensus study. The new rule will be key for improving the healthfulness of the diets consumed by low-income moms and young children, respecting their cultural dietary preferences. This rule will provide much needed access to more fresh produce, whole grain products, and seafood, while strengthening support for breastfeeding. Thus, it has a strong potential to reduce ethnic and racial inequities in maternal-child health and nutrition outcomes,” said Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, PhD, Professor of Public Health at the Yale School of Public Health.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has long championed the importance of the WIC program, which offers nutritious, healthy foods for mothers and babies. Pediatricians interact regularly with WIC and routinely refer patients to the program. WIC is effective because its food packages are based on what scientific experts recommend to meet the nutritional needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children. We support USDA’s efforts to move forward with a science-based process to update WIC food packages and look forward to providing feedback on the rule,” said Moira Szilagyi, MD, PhD, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
“Increasing access to healthful foods is an imperative step to achieving health equity,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Ellen R. Shanley, the 2022-2023 President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Serving millions of participants every day, WIC improves health outcomes for pregnant mothers, babies and children. So it is essential that the WIC food packages contain important nutrients and improve diet quality while also being mindful of people’s cultural preferences and customs. The changes announced today will provide welcome advancements in each of these areas.”
"The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) has been eagerly anticipating the release of the proposed rule updating the WIC packages. This is the first update since 2009 and is anticipated to come out today! Seafood is essential to the health of children and women. Including more seafood in the update and expanding its availability in WIC packages for children, pregnant and postpartum women in addition to breastfeeding mothers will be great for their health! It also is a sound investment that will support the seafood and retail industries, including many small businesses. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommends 2 8-oz servings of healthy seafood a week starting at 6 months. Almost all people have seafood intakes below recommended amounts, meaning they miss out on seafood’s healthy fats and nutrient-dense, lean protein. Seafood, in particular wild seafood from Alaska's sustainable fisheries adds quality, variety and value to the WIC food packages and is responsive to WIC participants’ requests," said Bruce Schactler, Director of Alaska Seafood Market Institute Global Food Aid Program.
“Improvements to WIC are improvements to equity, empowerment, and our nation’s future,” stated Eric Mitchell, Executive Director of the Alliance to End Hunger. “Investments in nutrition – especially those for mothers and children – are powerful signals of our values, and we at the Alliance hope that this measure announced by USDA can provide a further guidepost to ensure our nation’s commitments to food security and health for everyone.”
"The American Bakers Association is pleased the proposed USDA WIC revision rule will be published soon and are looking forward to reviewing with our members and commenting in early 2023. At first glance, it is great to see greater flexibility for and expansion of whole grain options for participants in the proposal as recommended in the 2017 NASEM report recommendations," said Lee Sanders, Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Public Affairs at the American Bakers Association.
"The proposed rule would continue to provide eggs as a core staple a the WIC package. Eggs provide key nutrients, including high-quality protein and choline. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, a nutrient noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics as important for brain health from birth to two years of age. Additionally, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eggs as an important first food for infants and toddlers, as well as for pregnant women and lactating moms," said Mickey Rubin, PhD, executive director of the American Egg Board’s Egg Nutrition Center.
“A healthy diet is key to promoting proper development, growth and overall health. The WIC program plays a vital role in providing nutritional support to pregnant, postpartum and nursing women, and infants and young children. The American Heart Association strongly supports USDA’s efforts to update the WIC food package to reflect current nutrition science and increase access to nutritious, culturally appropriate foods,” said Mark Schoeberl, Executive Vice President, Advocacy of the American Heart Association.
“Ensuring that families have access to adequate nutrition is a key method to promoting health equity and ensuring healthier future generations. The WIC nutrition program is science-driven and addresses nutrition gaps faced by vulnerable families and children – increasing the value of the WIC program would further expand its public health reach and is a change fully supported by the American Public Health Association,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association.
“The American Society for Nutrition supports USDA’s increase of the WIC benefit value for families in need, as well as USDA’s efforts to better align the WIC food package with current nutrition science and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” said Martha Belury, PhD, RD, President of the American Society for Nutrition (ASN). “Adhering to science-based standards will improve nutrition outcomes across populations, particularly those who are underserved and underrepresented, and reduce health disparities.”
“Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is critical to the health and wellbeing of pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding individuals, as they need substantial amounts of nutrients to support both their own health and the health of their developing baby,” said Terrance E. Moore, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs. “Unfortunately, cost continues to be the biggest barrier to choosing and accessing fresh produce for many families in the United States. By establishing a permanent increase to fruit and vegetable benefits for WIC participants, the USDA can significantly address disparities in health equity by providing all families the opportunity to achieve a healthy nutritional status during pregnancy and the critical first year postpartum.”
“The pandemic illuminated how imperative access to nutritional food options is for public health. It showed us that a strong Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is vital to the health and wellbeing of low-income families. And now, as much as ever before, it is important for us to increase the investment in the WIC benefit and uphold the science-based standards that lie at the heart of this program and at the foundation of a healthy tomorrow,” said Michael Fraser, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).
“Nearly half of US infants and more than one in four US children participate in the WIC program. WIC food packages are tailored to optimize the participants’ dietary intake, including the provision of fruits and vegetables, seafood, and legumes, which most infants and children lack in their diets. Given the critical role that nutrition in early childhood plays in brain development, it is imperative that the WIC program be expanded to assure that all eligible infants and children are provided with the foods and nutrients they need to reach their potential,” said Jamie Stang, PhD, MPH, RDN, President of the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists (ASPHN).
“As the voice for state public health nutrition leaders across the nation, ASPHN supports the WIC Program’s food package rule. Healthy eating is the foundation for good health and disease prevention. The WIC Program’s science-based standards are designed and implemented to guide and support WIC families in the incorporation of healthier foods, especially fruits and vegetables. As our nation grapples with a vegetable and fruit consumption crisis—where roughly 90 percent of Americans do not meet the recommended daily servings for fruits and vegetables—the food package rule will enhance the impact of WIC to achieve a vital public health priority through significant system change,” said Mary Ann Ellsworth, MS, RDN, Past-President of the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists (ASPHN).
“Making the WIC fruit and vegetable bump permanent will increase families’ access to nutrition at a time when food prices continue to rise. The 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday is the most critical period in their development. Children who lack good nutrition during this time are significantly more likely to experience lifelong health problems, along with physical and intellectual delays. A permanent fruit and vegetable bump will ensure millions of children receive the nutrition they need to thrive,” said Rev. Eugene Cho, President and CEO of Bread for the World.
“Economic justice depends on having adequate, accessible, healthy, and nutritious food. For nearly 50 years, WIC has enhanced the health and well-being of children and families by contributing to economic stability, learning and development, dietary intake, birth outcomes, and more. This program is crucial in helping combat food insecurity and lifting millions of women, infants, and children out of poverty. Making permanent WIC' s still-modest fruit and vegetable benefit levels provides parents the freedom they need to provide nutritious meals for themselves and their children,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
“The proposed changes, recommended by the National Academies, position WIC to strengthen its proven record of improving birth outcomes, diets, and development and help reduce racial disparities in maternal and child health outcomes. We will continue to work to make sure low-income families get and stay connected to WIC to help them stay healthy and thrive,” said Sharon Parrott, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“We commend the USDA for proposing an update to the WIC food package that is achievable and science-based. It will ensure that women, infants, and children participating in the program get the nutrition they need, particularly with an increase in fruit and vegetable benefits and strengthening key nutrition standards, while honoring food choices and cultural preferences,” said Dr. Peter Lurie, Executive Director and President of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“I see the power of WIC to promote health in my clinic every day,” says Dr. Diana Cutts, Chair of Pediatrics at Hennepin County Medical Center and Co-Lead Principal Investigator for Children's HealthWatch. “Boosting benefits for fruits and vegetables in WIC has a profound impact on a family's ability to offer their child a wide variety of foods, which are necessary for establishing a strong foundation of healthy eating.”
“The Coalition on Human Needs believes that WIC is uniquely suited to help millions of families cope with the rising costs of food if it permanently increases the WIC benefit. Before the pandemic, the monthly WIC amount covered only a small fraction of food costs for families with young children. In the past year, the number of people with children reporting that they did not always have enough to eat rose, shockingly, by 40 percent. Increasing the WIC benefit, plus more flexibility for parents to purchase nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables and a wider range of whole grains, is just what families need now,” said Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs.
“The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recognizes that families need access to sufficient and nutritious food to thrive. As a society, we must dismantle the barriers to health that stand in the way of each person reaching their potential. This mission is directly supported by the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program in its purpose to support and promote maternal and child nutrition. The proposed WIC food package rule contains essential improvements that are vital to ensuring a healthy start for all children, no matter their economic status,” said Rev. Amy Reumann, Senior Director at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“Good nutrition is a vital part of whole person health care. Increasing the WIC benefit to allow for the purchase of more fruit and vegetables is an important way to improve health outcomes for moms and babies, especially in communities of color. WIC is an evidence-based program that is linked to higher birthweights of newborns and lower childhood obesity rates,” said Arielle Kane, Director of Medicaid Initiatives at FamiliesUSA.
“The monthly fruit and vegetable benefit boost for WIC participants has played a key role in keeping hunger at bay for children and expectant or postpartum individuals during the pandemic, among other flexibilities, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see the proposed continuation of such a critical enhancement that allowed millions more young children to obtain the nutrition needed for their health and development,” said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). “We commend USDA for today’s announcement and look forward to working with our national and state partners to support the development of a stronger WIC Food Package.”
“Farmers markets have partnered with WIC families since the creation of the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program in 1992, which represented the first time fresh produce was included as part of WIC basket. Today, farmers markets continue to support health, choice, and robust agricultural systems as part of the WIC program. The most recent expansion of the WIC fruit and vegetable benefit expanded redemptions by WIC families at farmers markets and stimulated the local farm economy. Investing in healthier options for WIC families not only supports the nutritional future of this country’s next generation, but directly returns investment to local agriculture and strengthens communities across the country,” said Ben Feldman, executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition.
“For nearly fifty years, WIC has worked to put food on the table for families and ensure children have access to the nutritious foods they need to grow and thrive. The Feeding America network has long partnered with WIC providers to strengthen food security in communities across the country. USDA is now delivering on a key commitment included in the National Strategy by working to expand access to healthy foods in long-overdue updates to the WIC food packages. Coupled with new investments in WIC program modernization, we are encouraged that a stronger and more robust WIC program can continue to reduce hunger and improve health outcomes for the next generation,” said Vince Hall, Chief Government Relations Officer at Feeding America.
“Research in the fields of neuroscience, biology and early childhood development provide powerful insights into how nutrition, relationships, and environments in the 1,000 days between a pregnancy and a child’s second birthday shape future outcomes. Nutrition, in particular, plays a foundational role in a child’s development. The proposed WIC food package takes a critical step in ensuring implementation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans reaching low-income families with healthy foods and nutrition education critical to the health and well-being of parents and babies,” said Blythe Thomas, initiative director of 1,000 Days, an Initiative of FHI Solutions.
“We are pleased to see USDA’s proposed update to the WIC food package, which will strengthen the ability of the WIC program to improve health outcomes for millions of pregnant people and young children. The WIC program is integral to children's healthy development and sets millions of them up for a lifetime of success by not only improving health and nutrition, but by addressing child poverty rates from a young age. This rule, which codifies a bump to the fruit and vegetable limit, will be the first increase in the overall value of the WIC benefit since the 1970s. We applaud USDA for releasing a robust rule rooted in science, which will improve nutrition security for our nation’s youngest,” said Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus on Children.
“WIC is a cornerstone of American health policy, where science-based nutrition standards and public health programming meet to provide mothers and children with critical access to the healthy foods they need to grow and thrive,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean for Policy and Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University and Co-Chair of the Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. “I applaud the Administration for advancing its National Strategy commitment to make meaningful improvements to WIC, increasing nutrition security for American families and allowing our nation to build a stronger, healthier future.”
“We all know that WIC works, tremendously reducing hunger, boosting nutrition, and improving health outcomes for mothers and small children. Especially because of increasing food prices, USDA needs to codify the recent boost in fruits and vegetables in the WIC food package. A little more smart spending on this now is not only the right thing to do morally, but it will also dramatically reduce long-term health care spending,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America.
“WIC’s targeted nutrition support is particularly crucial for strengthening pregnancy and birth outcomes in Indigenous communities,” said Erin Parker, Executive Director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. “WIC food packages’ inclusion of more fruits, vegetables, seafood and whole grains furthers the closing of disparities in access to healthy foods while respecting cultural eating patterns and tribal customs. With more than thirty tribes and intertribal councils directly administering WIC services, robust WIC benefits translate to healthier outcomes and return money to local businesses and farm economies in Indian Country.”
“Since the WIC program introduced the Cash Value Benefit in 2009, it has consistently been one of the most highly redeemed components of the program, has proven to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, is associated with a reduction of obesity in children participating in the program, and resulted in increases in fresh produce availability at WIC-retailers,” said Cathy Burns, CEO of the International Fresh Produce Association. “Today’s proposed rule that would make the fruit and vegetable benefit boost that has resulted in a 1/3 cup daily increase in fruit and vegetable consumption in young children permanent is a win for the millions of families who rely on the program and a huge step in our fight to ensure all Americans are meeting DGA recommendations.”
“As an organization leading the fight for the health of all moms and babies, March of Dimes applauds the Biden Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its proposed rule revising the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program in an effort to reach more pregnant and postpartum women, and their babies. As preterm birth rates continue to rise in the U.S., the country needs leadership to ensure that expecting moms are supported throughout their entire pregnancy, including access to healthy foods, especially for families in underserved communities. This proposed rule will help address this crisis by increasing access to healthy foods for pregnant women and their families,” said Stacey Brayboy, Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Government Affairs at March of Dimes.
“The Biden-Harris Administration clearly understands the effectiveness of federal nutrition assistance programs like WIC, which provides critical support to millions of families around the country,” said Abby J. Leibman, President &CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “USDA’s proposed changes build on the longstanding success of WIC, promising to improve and strengthen the program in some critical ways. We are particularly pleased to see the proposals to permanently increase the value of the WIC benefit that will enable healthier food purchases, align the increased value with science-based recommendations, enhance the WIC shopping experience, and support the different needs of the diverse WIC population with a greater range of culturally and religiously-appropriate food options. In light of the recent White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, it is clear that charity alone cannot end hunger — we must strengthen our country’s safety net and advance bold solutions to improve the systems that allow hunger to persist.”
“Millions of moms and families are struggling with the high cost of groceries and other necessities,” said MomsRising Executive Director and CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner. “Moms support the new proposed rule because it will – at long last – increase the value of the WIC benefit and incentivize and support the purchase of healthy food. Moms welcome the flexibility to maximize variety and choice so we can purchase the foods that our families want and need most. In turn, these changes would provide a significant and welcome boost for our children’s health. Nothing is more important than ending hunger and food insecurity and keeping kids and families healthy.”
“Fruits and vegetables were staple in the traditional diets of Native Americans. The increased cash value benefit has given families the opportunity to bring more fruits and vegetables into the home, especially as access to affordable fruits and vegetables is a challenge in rural tribal communities. This helps our Indigenous families provide more foods from those traditional diets that promote good health. With an even stronger food package, WIC can have a further reach to ensure families have the foods and complementary nutrition education on how to prepare nutritious meals that highlights and respects the foods of their ancestors,” said Cheri Nemec, chair of the National Indian and Native American WIC Coalition (NINAWC).
“WIC is a critical component in combating the national crises we are facing in Indian Country in infant and maternal mortality. Our babies are 50 percent more likely to die from complications related to low birth weight than non-Hispanic white infants, and our mothers are almost three times as likely to receive late or no prenatal care as compared to non-Hispanic white mothers. By permanently increasing the benefit bump, Congress and USDA can take a huge step in ensuring that Native mothers and children will be provided an additional layer of protection and support to foster our next seven generations,” said Stacy A. Bohlen (Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa), Chief Executive Officer of the National Indian Health Board. “Native people in the United States historically practiced healthy diets. Health issues such as obesity and diabetes are relatively new to Native communities and are due to policies that removed healthy food sources, replacing them with unhealthy government commodities, and policies that limited food access on Tribal land. However, these devastating diseases are preventable. In honor of both Native American Heritage Month, and American Diabetes Month, the National Indian Health Board supports efforts to increase access to healthy foods through WIC. By increasing access to fruits and vegetables across food deserts for Indigenous mothers and their children, WIC can help us support new generations of Native people that are free from diabetes.”
“Our Catholic faith holds that children are a blessing and a gift from God. As such, special care must be taken to ensure that children and their families have what is necessary to live healthy lives including combating disease caused by low-quality food. NETWORK welcomes the Biden Administration’s newly proposed WIC regulation to increase the dollar amount of the cash voucher and update food guidelines consistent with the science allowing a wider variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This regulation is grounded in the best of our values. Since it serves more than 6 million pregnant people, mothers and their infants, and young children, it will have a transformative impact on countless lives both in the short and long term. As people of faith we say, Amen,” said Mary J. Novak, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.
“Achieving health and well-being comes from myriad components in every individual’s life, and nutrition security is a key factor in giving every child a healthy start,” said Barbara Petee, President of The Root Cause Coalition. “Health equity for moms and infants must address the social determinants of health, and strengthening the WIC program is a critical step in achieving that goal. The Coalition is grateful for smart regulation that codifies these values.”
“WIC remains one of the nation’s most successful, cost-effective public health nutrition programs. WIC participants, including those who are Hispanic/Latino, are more likely to have a more nutritious diet and better health outcomes, with participation tied to fewer infant deaths, fewer premature births, increased birth weights, and lower health care costs, according to research,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of the Salud America! national Latino health equity program at UT Health San Antonio.
“Save the Children is working tirelessly to ensure children have access to the food and nutrition they need to thrive. Therefore, we're supportive of the proposed USDA rule that would improve the nutritional quality of WIC food packages,” said Christy Gleason, Vice President of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at Save the Children. “Increasing access to fruits, vegetables, seafood, and whole grains would not only help further reduce food insecurity for children and families, but would also contribute to children getting the nutrition they need to thrive. WIC is one of the most effective tools to end child hunger and we are excited about the potential benefits the food package review may bring.”
“The WIC Cash Value Benefit allows families to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables their growing children need, providing flexibility to buy those that are culturally relevant and their kids will eat and enjoy. Permanently increasing this important and valued benefit will make sure families have even more access to fresh fruits and vegetables; it also supports local farmers and food vendors, leading to stronger local economies,” said Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President at Share Our Strength.
“Trust for America’s Health commends the USDA for issuing this proposed rule to help adults, infants, and children meet nutrition requirements of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. WIC is a powerful public health tool, and increasing participants’ access to fruits and vegetables will promote nutrition security and address rising rates of diet-related diseases like obesity,” said J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, President and CEO of Trust for America’s Health.
“As it has in the past, if adopted, the proposed package will advance health equity as it brings healthier food options to many lower-income, Latino neighborhoods throughout the country. By giving Latino families improved access to affordable fruits, vegetable, and whole grains, USDA’s proposed standards will lower rates of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity that disproportionately harm low-income Hispanic families, primarily because of barriers they face to accessing healthy and affordable food,” said Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy of UnidosUS.
“Eggs are a nutritious, affordable and versatile food that supplies critical nutrients like choline for mothers, infants and young children. UEP commends FNS for maintaining eggs in the food packages, but in our comments on the proposed rule, we will point out the opportunity to enhance nutritional intakes by expanding eggs’ role,” said Chad Gregory, President and CEO, United Egg Producers.
“The WIC program comprises a critical piece of the national infrastructure supporting infant and young child nutrition security. The WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor program and other WIC breastfeeding promotion and education resources serve as a crucial lifeline for millions of families who want to breastfeed. WIC is an obvious and effective conduit for advancing lactation and other science-based nutrition standards outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” said Nikia Sankofa, Executive Director of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee.
“Beans, peas, lentils and other pulses provide very important nutrients for women, infants, and children, including iron, choline, dietary fiber, potassium, and folate. They are also affordable, sustainable, and meet a variety of dietary and cultural preferences. We’re pleased to see beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas continue to be a core component in the WIC program,” said Tim McGreevy, CEO at the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and American Pulse Association.
“Good nutrition in the earliest and most formative years of a child’s life is critical for lifelong development, yet too many families with young children remain food insecure,” stated ZERO TO THREE Chief Policy Officer Miriam Calderón. “The State of Babies Yearbook: 2022 data show that nearly 15 percent of young children nationwide have low or very low food security, with that number going as high as 24 percent in some states. WIC serves as a critical support for pregnant people and very young children, proven to improve nutrition and health. This new proposed rule by the USDA will have a tremendous impact on families relying on WIC by assuring good nutrition our babies need to thrive and we applaud the agency for taking action on this important issue.”
“As a WIC provider in northwest Alaska, we serve many of the most remote communities in the country. Produce in these areas, when available, can cost five- to ten-times as much as what you would pay in other parts of the country. This disparity was not accounted for in the $9 and $11 amounts provided in earlier food packages and relative to what this amount could buy in the rest of the country, which subtly demonstrated that fruits and vegetables were less important for a family’s nutrition than other foods like juice. By enhancing the cash value benefit for fruits and vegetables, we are closing the gap that makes it so much harder for families in this part of the country to buy fruits and vegetables, incentivizing stores to stock a larger quantity and wider variety of fruits and vegetables – which benefits the entire community – and demonstrating that WIC values the ability to have whole fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet,” said Hilary Fello, RD, LD, CLC, WIC Program Manager at the Norton Sound Health Corporation in Alaska.
“WIC foods provide targeted nutrients at critical times of growth and development, which translates to increased dietary quality, decreased childhood obesity, and improved health outcomes overall. With USDA’s proposed updates, the WIC food package will provide healthier choices that will encompass more food groups and align further with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Families come to WIC because they trust that the education, information, and foods provided will set their children on a healthier path. By following and trusting in nutrition science, USDA’s updates to the food package can strengthen WIC’s role in curbing chronic diet-related disease and improving health outcomes for the next generation,” said Carrie Zavala, MS, RDN, Arizona Local Agency WIC Association (ALAWA).
“The increase for purchasing fruits and vegetables has been so helpful! My two-year-old has had the chance to try new fruits and vegetables that I would not have been able to purchase for her otherwise. She loves trying new foods and I love getting to give her healthy options,” said Leslie, a mother of three participating in Arkansas WIC.
“With today’s steps at USDA, we have an opportunity to address overdue improvements in the WIC food package using the scientific recommendations of the National Academies report. The healthy foods provided to families will encourage participant retention, reflect inclusiveness of diverse foodways, and are important in population health outcomes, a proven strength of the WIC program,” said Karen Farley, RDN, IBCLC, executive director of the California WIC Association (CWA).
“Permanently enhancing WIC’s cash value benefit is more than just providing additional resources for families to purchase fruits and vegetables, it is a catalyst for reducing childhood obesity and maternal mortality and morbidity, improving food security, and assuring adequate access for every family and child,” said Regina Brady, WIC Director at Thames Valley Council for Community Action in Connecticut.
“As a local agency WIC director, I am in full support of USDA moving forward on updating the WIC food packages. This important process ensures that our WIC families continue to receive science-backed, nutrient-dense food packages and promotes access to healthy foods among our WIC participants. We have heard about the impacts of the increased fruit and vegetable benefit from so many WIC families highlighting how it has allowed them to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to their children throughout the entire month, rather than just one week each month. We have also seen a high rate of redemption of this increased benefit among Colorado WIC participants, increasing food access in many households. We are hopeful that the fruit and vegetable increase will be sustained with these new updates, and our clients will continue to benefit from this additional access to fresh, healthy foods. Weld County WIC can’t wait to see what can be accomplished with the increased resources and the science-backed recommendations of any new food packages and how this might move the WIC program forward in new and exciting ways,” said Ellie Betts, RD, WIC Director at Sunrise Community Health in Evans, Colorado.
“The increase in the WIC Cash Value Benefit has empowered the families we serve to choose more fruits and vegetables. The rural community of Waimānalo, where our WIC clinic is located, is home to the second largest population of Native Hawaiians in the world, and the cash value benefit increase has given them the power to purchase cultural produce to make Indigenous meals that have been in their families for generations. Families can now comfortably choose Indigenous foods using their cash value benefit instead of passing it up due to the high cost of its cultivation,” said Amber K.E. Granite, IBC, GPCE, WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator at the Waimānalo Health Center in Hawaii.
“Increasing the WIC food package benefit and updating the foods that are offered based on current nutritional science is critical in ensuring WIC participants receive the healthy foods they need to grow and thrive,” said Leah Sallas, WIC Director at the Idaho Department of Public Health.
“The fruit and vegetable package has allowed my family to try fresh fruits and vegetables we might not have been able to buy because of the expense. I have been able to make fresh, healthy meals and snacks now. All of my children have been on the program, but only the younger two have gotten this enhanced benefit through WIC. We are very grateful for this improvement in the program,” said Cristina Colunga, a mother of four participating in Illinois WIC.
“I’ve been with WIC as a dietitian for over two years, and during the majority of that time, WIC has had an increased fruit and vegetable benefit. Parents rely on this to feed themselves and their children. Before the increase, kids only got $9 each month for fruits and vegetables. That would barely buy a bag of apples and a bunch of bananas today. From a nutrition perspective, it’s critical that the WIC food package stays current with the science and economics of our time and supports increased value, for fruits and vegetables, for other essential healthy foods like whole grains and fish, and for culturally and diet appropriate foods for all types of families. Keeping the nation healthy starts with healthy pregnancies, babies, and children. It starts with WIC,” said Sarah Younker, RDN, MBA, WIC Nutritionist with St. Joseph County WIC in Indiana.
“As a dietitian, it has been so fulfilling to be able to offer families realistic ideas to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables knowing they will have the resources available to help them put those foods on the table,” said Kris Wood, chair of the Iowa Association of WIC Directors.
“Growing healthy kids is expensive. We all know the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, but anyone that has been to the grocery store lately can see that $1 doesn’t buy you many bananas. The WIC food package is based on scientific evidence that promotes healthy pregnancies and supports the needs of infants and children as they grow. We strongly support the USDA’s efforts to update the WIC food packages and bolster the WIC benefit to strengthen the program’s proven public health outcomes,” said Heather Peterson, RDN, LD, WIC Coordinator at Reno County Health Department in Kansas.
“My family appreciates the extra nutritional support available to us through the WIC program – especially the fruit and vegetable benefit. It’s helpful to have increased access to fresh produce while I’m making my own baby food,” said Valerie Frost, a mother of three participating in Kentucky WIC.
“I have seen firsthand the difference that WIC makes in the lives of families in Louisiana, especially during the pandemic. During this difficult time, the enhanced Cash Value Benefit levels have helped families access more healthy food, but the difference that WIC makes is not limited to food—WIC does so much to address the social determinants of health and improve health equity. Enhancing the food package, to add the extra nutrients that a family needs, is crucial to support the health of our children. The support we provide our children now will affect their future—getting kids started with healthy foods will keep them healthy for life. I am grateful for the work that USDA is doing to support WIC in addressing food insecurity and meeting the needs of our children and our families,” said Mary E. Schultheis, Founder, President, and CEO of Crescent City Family Services in Louisiana.
“When we look at WIC purchase history, the first food package item our participants redeem each month, without fail, are the fruit and vegetable dollars. From plantains to peppers, from strawberries to squash, from amaranth leaves to avocado – the fruit and vegetable benefit is the most exciting and most culturally appropriate part of the food package for our families. At WIC, we teach that early introduction to a wide variety of tastes and textures helps children develop into healthy eaters with adventurous approaches to food. The expanded fruit and vegetable benefits quite literally puts our money where the mouth is when it comes to the nutrition behavioral science that guides the WIC program,” said Anna Bullett, MS, RD, LD, WIC Program Director at The Opportunity Alliance in Maine.
“WIC’s mission has always been to ‘safeguard the health of infants, women, and children by providing nutrition education, health screenings, and nutritious foods.’ Keeping the increase in the cash value benefit and adding foods such as canned fish for all participant categories will help to decrease nutrition related diseases such as diabetes and iron-deficiency anemia. Many of the participants in my local agency have expressed how grateful they are to have received an increase in the cash value benefit to purchase fruits and vegetables for their families,” said Karen A. George, Coordinator of Special Programs with the Garrett County Health Department WIC Program in Maryland.
“The recent increases in WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefit demonstrate how increased access to healthy foods can improve participant satisfaction and encourage ongoing participation for young children. With this proposed rule, USDA is centering participant input by providing WIC families with more flexibility and additional purchasing power to make healthy choices. Broader choice among healthy foods – such as the inclusion of additional cultural whole grain options – will strengthen WIC’s efforts to reach new families and deliver improved health outcomes in the years ahead,” said the Massachusetts Association of WIC Program Directors.
"The continuation of the CVB increase of the WIC food package is vitally important to make a significant impact on WIC families. Scientific evidence has clearly demonstrated an increased intake of fruits and vegetables provides key nutrients. Their enhanced availability during childhood helps establish healthy food patterns known to prevent obesity and chronic disease. Strengthening the WIC food package creates the opportunity to build upon the nutrient content of the WIC food package and enhance food security in the United States," said Tracie Bolton, chair of the Michigan WIC Association.
“The Minnesota WIC Program is so excited about the potential to add more value to the WIC food packages by expanding the fruit and vegetable benefit for WIC participants to deliver 50 percent of recommended intake. Our WIC families love the cash value benefit and have made great use of the additional buying power to put more healthy fruits and vegetables on the table in their households. By following the science-based recommendations of the National Academies report to improve the WIC food packages, USDA can add more value and more nutritional benefit to the food packages with a larger cash value benefit and with other improvements like package size flexibilities, stronger nutrition standards to promote alignment with the Dietary Guidelines, and expanded options that meet different cultural preferences for WIC families,” said Kate Franken, WIC Director at the Minnesota Department of Health.
"As a WIC participant with my children and now grandchildren, I have seen the impact of the WIC food package on my family. It has helped make sure that I help my children build healthy eating habits! My grandchildren love the extra fruits and veggies we get through WIC and I would love to see that continue, along with other changes, to help further support my family in making nutritious food choices," said Kempernie Sutton-Dean, a grandmother of three participating in Mississippi WIC.
“The Missouri WIC Association fully endorses the food package rule to improve health and nutrition outcomes for women, infants, and children,” said Joan Brundage, Chair of the Missouri WIC Association.
"WIC families are our future. The increase in Cash Value Benefit is an essential component of the WIC food package and impacts every Montana household we serve. As inflation continues to surge across the globe, Montana's rural communities are feeling the effects of high fuel costs, and a round trip to a grocery store sometimes can be 120 miles. WIC has an opportunity to help ease some of that worry by making sure that not only do children in our communities have enough to eat, but they have adequate fruits and vegetables to nourish their bodies," said Debbie Hirshberg, President of the Montana Association of WIC Agencies (MAWA).
“We in Nebraska applaud the steps taken to permanently increase the cash value benefit for fruits and vegetables and provide a greater range of culturally appropriate foods – including whole grain options – for WIC families. Our families have expressed their appreciation of the higher amounts for fruits and vegetables they receive and the increase in redemption shows it! We’ve seen the refugee and immigrant population increase significantly in some agencies over the past couple years, and these proposed updates will strengthen WIC’s vital support for the diversity of cultures and backgrounds in our state,” said Cassandra Dytrych, MS, RD, Chair of the Nebraska WIC Association.
“USDA’s proposed updates build on the success of WIC’s recent increases in fruit and vegetable benefits, which has been an incredible help to New Hampshire WIC families. Many participants report that the fruit and vegetable benefit bump is one of the best changes to happen to WIC, as it is encouraging them to try and eat healthier and has really made a difference in their overall diet. Nutritionists are finding that an increased vitamin and mineral intake for children and pregnant women is a direct result of the increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables purchased through WIC. As WIC works to improve food security and resolve food access disparities, USDA should follow the science and enhance the WIC resources available across key food groups so that families can make the healthy choices that set their children up for success,” said Susan Wnuk, Director of Community Health and Nutrition Services at the Community Action Program of Belknap-Merrimack Counties in New Hampshire.
“The increased cash value benefit is appreciated and welcomed by our WIC participants. So many families ask for more fruits and vegetables on their benefits and often these are the first redeemed. Participants want to do the best for their families and get frustrated at the cost and their inability to provide them daily. The WIC food package rule will give us the opportunity to permanently increase this needed benefit for fruits and vegetables and many other nutritious foods,” said Robin McRoberts, MBA, MS, RD, Director of Community Programs at the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey in New Jersey.
“WIC is a driver of healthier outcomes for young children, and the program’s science-based food packages are critical in closing nutrient intake disparities across populations. After the last round of food package revisions, childhood obesity declined among WIC toddlers – with more pronounced declines for Indigenous and Hispanic children. In New Mexico, WIC families comprise a diversity of cultures and backgrounds, informing a vibrant food heritage. USDA’s updates to the WIC food package will do right by New Mexico WIC families, ensuring greater access to nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – including cultural grains like quinoa and blue cornmeal. By expanding healthier choices for WIC families, WIC can play a larger role at building nutrition security in communities of color,” said Jeanne Gallegos, MS, Deputy WIC Director at the New Mexico Department of Health.
“The WIC Association of New York State applauds USDA’s efforts to align the WIC food package with the most current nutrition science. Local WIC offices work hard to support their participants to meet their nutrition and health goals, and we’ve heard from many grateful WIC families across the state after the Cash Value Benefit was temporarily enhanced. These families have been able to introduce and encourage their children to eat a greater variety and quantity of fruits and vegetables that would not otherwise have been affordable to them. Early exposure to a variety of healthy foods is crucial to building lifelong healthy eating habits—updating the WIC food package is a crucial step in nurturing a healthier next generation,” said Lauren Brand, Chair of the WIC Association of New York State, Inc.
“When WIC increased the cash value benefit, it allowed me to still provide healthy foods to my two younger children during a time when food prices were rising quickly. Because food costs are still steadily rising, making the cash value benefit increase permanent will continue to help so many families afford these healthy foods,” said Jessica Burris, a mother of three participating in North Carolina WIC.
“Those of us in the nutrition and public health community have been waiting a long time for this opportunity that will make WIC even better! We have seen how the higher levels of fruit and vegetables, the 'WIC bump,' provided to children and moms in the WIC food package during the 2022 fiscal year led to children eating more fruits and veggies. WIC works to get healthier foods to families. Updating the WIC food packages to provide more and healthier foods will better position our next generation for a healthy start in life. I am looking to Congress’ support as USDA moves to fully implement the science-based recommendations,” said Karen K. Ehrens, RD, LRD, food and nutrition consultant and advocate in Bismarck, North Dakota.
“Oklahoma WIC is proud to provide nutritious supplemental foods and nutrition education to families across our state. We are pleased that USDA is moving to update the food packages we provide to families in a manner consistent with the latest science. In particular, the expansion of the Cash Value Benefit for fruits and vegetables has been tremendously beneficial for the food security and promotion of health for our families over the past 17 months. We are excited that USDA recognizes the profound impact of this increase and will make this change permanent. Additionally, Oklahoma WIC has long prioritized the provision of whole grain cereals to participants as consumption of whole grains is prioritized by the Dietary Guidelines and associated with reduced risk of a myriad of chronic diseases. We welcome USDA’s steps to align every WIC program in providing whole grain-rich cereals so that all WIC participants may enjoy the benefits of increased whole grain consumption,” said Jennifer Ortiz, MS, RD, LD, with the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
“Families like mine have struggled with higher food prices, and the increased fruit and vegetable benefit has been tremendously helpful to ensure that I can put food on the table for my three young children. The food package updates will help provide highly nutrition foods such as fruits and vegetables, eggs, and whole grain options – including cereals – to ensure that children like mine can get a healthy start,” said Tipoko Kabore, a mother of three participating in Ohio WIC.
“Although the WIC program is ultimately a public health education program, aimed at providing nutrition education and breastfeeding support to young families, the food package is a big draw for the program. Increasing the fruit and vegetable benefit and increasing the appeal of the WIC food package, while maintaining its nutrition integrity, is paramount to the success of the program. WIC wants to give parents the information they need to make informed healthy choices for their family, with the key word here being choice. A program with a valuable food package and supportive and knowledgeable staff will help ensure participants want to access our program. We can’t help families succeed if we can’t get them on or keep them on the program because the cost-benefit is too high for them. Improving the value and acceptance of the WIC food package is essential to bringing families through our doors,” said Tiare T. Sanna, RDN, WIC Director at the Oregon Health Authority.
“As frontline WIC providers, we applaud USDA for listening to our WIC families and ensuring WIC can continue providing valuable resources needed to put healthy food on the table. We often have our participants express their sincere gratitude for the added fruit and vegetable benefit and their wish to continue it forward!” said Shannon Hayward, President of the Pennsylvania WIC Association.
“WIC is an important component to healthy and fed families in America. The increases help so many families from various socioeconomic backgrounds improve nutrition as well as assist with constraints involving the inflated cost of food during this time,” said Cashawna Shakir, a mother of one participating in Rhode Island WIC.
“The South Carolina WIC program surveys its WIC participants annual to obtain feedback for continuous quality improvement. During the 2022 survey, it was abundantly clear that South Carolina WIC participants value the Cash Value Benefit increase and would appreciate a permanent increase for fruit and vegetable purchases. Studies show that a diet rich in fruits and vegetable can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check,” said Berry Kelly, Director of the Bureau of Community Nutrition Services at the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control.
“As we strive to close the gap on health inequities and improve nutrition security in America, it only makes sense to incorporate the recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for enhanced nutrition in WIC food packages. These changes will only strengthen the impact of our program, resulting in healthier moms, babies, and children,” said Lauren Cromer, WIC Director at the Metro Public Health Department in Nashville, Tennessee.
“As nutrition professionals, we see the effects of food insecurity in families that cannot afford nutritious foods. The new WIC food package allows families more flexibility to make sound food choices according to the family health needs, culture, and preferences. The increased access to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy options will support the nutrition messaging in public health nutrition to address the health disparities in our communities by removing barriers which can make maintaining good health difficult,” said Benny Jasso, President of the Texas Association of Local WIC Directors.
“The Utah WIC Association supports the new WIC food package rule. We would like to see the WIC food packages strengthened and updated to the latest nutrition science,” said the Utah WIC Association.
“Supporting families’ purchasing power for fruits and vegetables by permanently increasing the cash value benefit from $0.30 per day to $0.80 per day for children participating in WIC will impact long-term dietary patterns and improve health outcomes and nutrition security for a vulnerable population. Combining WIC’s nutrition education mission with families’ ability to purchase and eat more fruits and vegetables can further improve health during critical periods of growth and development,” said Karen Flynn, WIC Director at the Vermont Department of Health.
“WIC plays a significant role in reducing health and food access disparities in communities of color. The WIC food package should be reflective of the changing demographics and culture, while being grounded in science. We should be emphasizing the intersection of healthy foods and the development of healthy eating habits in our participants,” said Paula N. Garrett, MS, RD State WIC Director for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“The increased amounts for fruits and vegetables align with the National Academies food package recommendations. This is vital for the health and success of WIC families across the nation. Here in Washington State, we’ve seen an incredible response to these standards, especially the Cash Value Benefit bump. Families in Washington spent $30 per month using the enhanced Cash Value Benefit, compared to $11 per month with the standard benefit, providing significantly more fresh fruits and vegetables in their homes. Families have truly changed their buying habits with more organic produce, speaking to the power of science-based processes and the value of access to healthy nutritional options,” said Malia Mullen, MBA, Executive Director, Nutrition First, WIC Association of Washington State.
“A review of the WIC food package has been past due with the last revision over a decade ago. The Wisconsin WIC Association commends USDA for making strides forward in reviewing the WIC food package to improve the future health of our children and families,” said Camen Hofer, RDN, CD, CLC, Chair of the Wisconsin WIC Association.
“It has been so nice to be able to offer this increased Cash Value Benefit to WIC families during this stressful time of the pandemic and subsequent inflation. I know that it has helped with retention of current WIC families, has encouraged new families to apply for WIC, and that all WIC participants are very appreciative of the increased benefit,” said Emily Lancaster, MPPD, RDN, LDN, CLC, WIC Regional Nutritionist Supervisor in Rock Springs, Wyoming.