By Tom Karst, September 9, 2021
More than 100 organizations, including the United Fresh Produce Association, have signed a letter to Congressional leaders urging an extension of the short-term increase to WIC benefits for fruits and vegetables that expires on Sept. 30.
After four months of increased access to vegetables and fruits, over 4.7 million WIC participants will see a benefits cliff on Sept. 30.
“As a group of the nation’s leading food and nutrition security, health policy, child health, and retail and agriculture organizations, we urge Congress to act swiftly – before Sept. 30 – to extend the WIC benefit increase to assure that mothers and their children have adequate resources to ensure nutrition security,” the letter said.
“Maintaining the increased WIC CVB at $35 per month will contribute to positive economic impacts to low-income families and the statewide economy as well as ensure families have access to healthy food, playing a critical role in improving nutrition and health across the lifespan.”
The National WIC Association, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI), Vouchers 4 Veggies – EatSF, United Fresh and more than 95 other organizations signed the Sept. 7 letter, according to a news release.
Prior to this summer, the monthly Cash Value Benefit (CVB) for vegetable and fruit purchases was $9 per child and $11 for pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women. Because of the American Rescue Plan Act, this summer, state agencies provided a monthly benefit of $35 per child and per adult – more than triple the previous value.
President Biden’s budget called for a yearlong extension of this benefit bump, and both the House and Senate appropriations bills provided adequate funding to extend this increase until September 2022. However, the release said Congress has not yet taken final action to authorize the increase and ensure families can access these benefits on Oct. 1.
“There is no question that the tripling of the fruit and vegetable benefit in WIC increased access and addressed nutrition insecurity for participants,” Mollie Van Lieu, senior director of nutrition policy for United Fresh, said in an e-mail Sept. 9.
“To let it expire would be to fail those in need. Stakeholders, USDA, the White House, and many members of Congress share a desire to extend the benefit, so we are hopeful for its extension while we work to make the update permanent.”
The 98 organizations that signed onto this letter urge Congress to act swiftly – before Sept. 30 – to extend the WIC benefit increase so that mothers and their children have adequate resources to ensure nutrition security for the next 12 months.
“The Sept. 30 deadline is fast approaching, and families cannot wait for Washington theatrics to feed their children healthier meals,” Douglas Greenaway, president and CEO the National WIC Association, said in the release.
“The WIC benefit bump is a much-needed support for families with young children, a constructive partnership with American agriculture, and a long-delayed step to align available WIC foods with independent scientific recommendations. In just a few short months, WIC purchases have skyrocketed, and providers are serving thousands of new children that are drawn to a greater value for vegetables and fruits. Congress should not miss this opportunity to continue to do right by our nation’s children and extend the WIC vegetable and fruit benefit bump for an entire year.”
There is clear evidence that increasing WIC’s cash value benefit for fresh produce is an effective policy solution to improve individual health outcomes, support population health, and lower long-term health care costs, Robert Greenwald, faculty director of CHLPI, said in the release.
“We are proud to join the National WIC Association, Vouchers 4 Veggies – EatSF, and dozens of expert voices in calling on Congress to support nutrition security and fight for longer, healthier lives for pregnant and postpartum individuals and children across the country.”
Hilary Seligman, professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said many WIC families report that regular access to healthy foods is simply out of reach.
“Fruit and vegetable benefits encourage healthy eating, support the health of pregnant people, and improve birth outcomes,” Seligman said in the release. “Extending the increased WIC cash-value benefit will not only help ensure WIC families have access to the nutrition they need to lead healthy lives but also contribute substantially to our national, state, and local economies by supporting local food systems.”