Nearly six months after the onset of the national and global COVID-19 crisis, the federal government has still not availed itself of all possible tools to help ensure the health and well-being of children and families who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting increased risks of severe illness and adverse pregnancy outcomes for pregnant persons who contract COVID-19, it is imperative that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) empower states with all the available flexibilities to ensure the safety of pregnant persons, new parents, and their babies and young children.
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, USDA has granted numerous waivers of statutory and regulatory requirements for providers of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). These waivers permit provider agencies to embrace telehealth models, certify new participants remotely, and expand the allowable food items for WIC shoppers. Although Congress vested USDA with the authority to issue waivers for any portion of the COVID-19 emergency, these waivers are all set to expire in one month – on September 30. The National WIC Association (NWA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) jointly call on USDA to act immediately to extend the waivers for the remainder of the COVID-19 emergency.
“As we approach September 30, USDA can avoid a manufactured catastrophe by extending the WIC waivers for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. There is no reason that states should be deprived of the flexibilities they need to safely operate, and there is no reason that pregnant women and the parents of newborns should be forced to show up in-person to receive nutrition assistance during a global pandemic,” said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, President & CEO of the National WIC Association. “Remote and modified operations have been an incredible success, as WIC providers have innovated at rapid pace to embrace telehealth technologies and meet the needs and concerns of participating families. WIC has been a vital resource for hundreds of thousands of new participants throughout the COVID-19 crisis, including many families seeking aid because of job loss or diminished income. That hard-earned progress in supporting healthy pregnancies, healthy babies, and healthy kids throughout the pandemic cannot be disrupted by political brinkmanship or bureaucratic indifference. WIC providers need continued flexibilities, and we strongly urge USDA to extend the waivers.”
“Pediatricians understand the critical role of effective, evidence-based programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in supporting health and lifelong development. The COVID-19 crisis and the ongoing challenges facing families across the country only make programs like WIC all the more important. Children and families must be able to continue to rely on the nutrition and breastfeeding support the program provides during these uncertain times. The U.S. Department of Agriculture must extend the waivers for the program for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency so that families can continue to receive the support they need,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Sally Goza, MD, FAAP.
“In March, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists applauded lawmakers for granting the USDA the authority to extend regulatory flexibilities in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) so that pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children do not face increased barriers to nutrition support and services in the midst of this pandemic,” said ACOG CEO Maureen G. Phipps, MD, MPH, FACOG. “As we work to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, enhanced access to WIC’s critical services remains vitally important. We urge USDA to swiftly extend these waivers. Doing so will go a long way in easing the fear and anxiety experienced by so many families and ensure that they have continued access to the healthy foods, nutrition services, and breastfeeding support they need.”
NWA is the go-to voice of and for WIC staff at more than 12,000 WIC locations across the country who work to support more than 6.3 million mothers and young children. NWA provides member-driven advocacy; education, guidance and support to WIC staff; and drives innovation to strengthen WIC as we work toward a nation of healthier women, children, and their families. Learn more at www.nwica.org.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of more than 60,000 members, ACOG strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care.