FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Contact: Natalie Moran
Pandemics require bold action to protect the health and safety of all individuals, including WIC families and frontline service providers. Congress, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, vested the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the authority to approve waivers that permit providers of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to adapt services to ensure the safety of WIC moms, young children, and clinic staff throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency. Rather than responding boldly and utilizing the full extent of that authority, USDA approved time-limited waivers that end on May 31, 2020.
While the waivers have allowed WIC providers to conduct remote appointments, certify new participants remotely, remotely issue benefits, and expand the allowable brands and package sizes of WIC-approved food items to account for retail grocery stocking challenges, they are set to expire on May 31, 2020. This is a full four months ahead of Congress’ granted authority through September 30, 2020. The pandemic is not going away any time soon. The National WIC Association (NWA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) jointly call on USDA to act immediately to extend WIC waivers through September 30.
“In the midst of a profound public health emergency, USDA must act swiftly to fully extend these essential waivers through September 30. Anything less would fail to give WIC providers and WIC families the health and safety assurances they deserve. Pregnant women and parents should not be forced to choose between having enough food for their children and risking their own health,” said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, President & CEO of the National WIC Association. “It is clear that politics, not health science, is driving USDA’s waiver decision. WIC providers modified services in a short period of time to safeguard the health of participants, clinic staff, and their families. As rising COVID-19 related unemployment is driving thousands of new and needy participants to access WIC services, an abrupt return to clinic-based services would put mothers, babies, and young children at risk. A failure to fully extend waivers would deter families from seeking vital nutrition assistance at a time of unprecedented economic instability and uncertainty. The National WIC Association insists that USDA show leadership in the midst of this health crisis and exercise all regulatory flexibilities to immediately extend all issued waivers through September 30.”
“Pediatricians understand the direct link between sound nutrition and good health. Strong, evidence-based programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are vital to helping children grow up healthy and thrive. Pediatricians across the country are reporting high levels of food insecurity in their communities due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why families need programs like WIC now more than ever,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Sally Goza, MD, FAAP. “As we face this global health crisis together, vulnerable children and families should be able to count on the nutrition and breastfeeding support WIC provides. It is critical that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) keeps WIC strong and immediately extends the waivers for the program so that families can continue to rely on it.”
“Extending the waivers for WIC services through September 30 is a critical step toward assuring the immediate health and safety and the long-term nutritional needs of WIC families,” said Berry Kelly, director of the Bureau of Community Nutrition Services at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“We are hearing from North Dakota WIC families that, if they must choose between getting WIC benefits and their child’s health, they will choose not to participate in WIC. That is why North Dakota WIC staff and families want the COVID-19-related waivers extended at least until September 30, 2020,” said Sheri Hatten, director of the Lake Region WIC Program in Devils Lake, North Dakota. “Staff need time to make the WIC offices a safe place. Putting CDC and local public health best practices in place is particularly challenging for offices that are often very small or where space is shared with other public health services or offered in participant accessible public facilities like churches and courthouses. Staff are finding that it is difficult to get all the protective equipment needed to make the offices safer for participants and WIC staff. Our North Dakota WIC families are telling us they really appreciate the new procedures we have in place with the remote services and they recognize that WIC put them in place to help keep them safe. They need WIC and we need to keep them safe.”
“USDA should extend WIC waivers through September 30, 2020,” said Filomena Ahlefeld, president of the Pennsylvania WIC Association. “Local agencies are continually pivoting during this fluid situation to put processes in place, reacting to the changes of our federal and state leadership, and prioritizing safety for our clients and employees, but we need stability in our approach. WIC caseloads are increasing due to the crisis and participants in our communities are comforted knowing that WIC is here for them, providing contactless access to their food benefits. The processes currently in place by local agencies to accommodate current conditions are working – families are receiving benefits timely and safely while maintaining the quality and integrity of the program. We need to care for our frontline workers by implementing practices to keep them safe and sending the unified message to stay separate, stay safe, and stay home.”