President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act provides additional funding to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC.
The increase in funding will result in a significant boost in monthly benefits for mothers and caregivers enrolled in the program.
A Wyoming Department of Health news release announced the temporary boost June 1, stating the fruits and vegetables voucher included in the WIC benefits increased from $9 and $11 per month for children and women, respectively, to $35 per month per member, effective now until the end of September.
“That’s a huge benefit … and a really great incentive,” Beverly Medina, WIC technician at the Albany County WIC Program, said Wednesday. “It gives moms the resources needed to buy healthy foods.”
With the increase, Medina said a family of two has double the stipend to buy fresh or frozen produce. A family of four would receive about $140 for fruits and vegetables each month, as opposed to $38 with standard pricing.
The nutrition program is housed in the United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Services, and administered at national and regional levels. In Wyoming, about 6,800 participants are currently enrolled in the program, of which nearly 400 live in Albany County, according to the latest available data.
The county’s numbers are volatile, Medina said, with the largest flux in enrollment occurring in the fall, when students return to the university.
“I can see already see an increase now (for new applicants),” Medina said, despite it being the “slow” season for enrollment.
She explained many of the clients they serve are part-time workers with young families who are also attending either the University of Wyoming or WyoTech. Contrary to common beliefs, Medina said not all their clients are single mothers.
“All caregivers are welcome. Moms, dads, grandparents, foster parents,” Medina said. “(We’re) one big family.”
Laramie’s WIC program is operated through Albany County Public Health, located at 609 S. Second St. Several services, including lactation and breastfeeding counseling, health and nutrition screenings, and nutrition education with licensed nutritionists and dietitians are offered on site.
“We know what it’s like (to struggle), and we try to accommodate as best we can,” said Medina, who added the partnership and structure among WIC, public health and Medicaid is crucial because they share many of the same clients.
In addition to these services, participants are assigned a WIC pre-loaded debit card to buy groceries. According to the YouTube video “Wyoming WIC WYO W.E.S.T,” found on the WDH website, each card is loaded three months at a time and is available for use whenever needed.
Medina was uncertain how much three months amounts to in dollars, since they distribute funding based on family unit size.
“Everybody gets the same food,” she said, but the quantities vary based on how many children are in the household.
For example, a family of four may be allotted four gallons of milk a month, whereas a family of six may be allotted six. This example is conceptual to demonstrate the food distribution structure among families and may not accurately reflect the individual cases of WIC participants.
After each case is reviewed and approved, participants are assigned a card and have immediate use at any of the three primary grocery stores in town – Walmart, Safeway and Ridley’s.
Through the program, participants receive eggs, cheese and other protein sources; whole grain cereals and breads/tortillas; beans, peas and lentils; and frozen juice, fruits and vegetables. After each purchase, a food balance receipt is given to the participant, which keeps track of how many items they have left for purchase.
“You can only shop for the foods that are designated for the present month(s),” according to the YouTube video.
This means if a card holder doesn’t purchase all of the designated items in the time allotted, the benefit will expire and reset the first of the next month.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” Medina said.
The Special Supplemental Nutritional Program isn’t just beneficial for dietary reasons, but can help families potentially save thousands, according to the official website. Women post-pregnancy can save up to $400. Pregnant women and families with children up to 5 years old can save $800 and $750, respectively, every year for up to five years.
Additionally, women who are nursing have unlimited free access to breastfeeding experts and can receive a breast pump/kit – a $250-$800 expense – in addition to $1,350 of yearly savings. For infants supplementing with formula, savings is closer to $1,850.
HOW TO APPLY
To qualify for Wyoming WIC, the applicant must be a state resident and be:
- a woman who was pregnant in the last six months
- an infant or child under 5 years old, including foster children.
Likewise, applicants must show proof of income for the household and complete a health screening, which includes a thorough history of health and nutrition, a screening for anemia, and height and weight measurements.
Individuals who are already enrolled in Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) automatically meet the income requirements for WIC eligibility.
For more information about WIC, visit https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/wic/.
To apply for the WIC program, either call the Albany County WIC Program at 307-721-2535 to schedule an appointment with a WIC technician or fill out an online appointment request form at https://wywicapply.health.wyo.gov/#/.