The Public Interest

WIC: a food program that fails

George G. Graham

Spring 1991

FEW GOVERNMENT programs have ever been as popular, not to say sacrosanct, as the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), on which the federal government currently spends $2.5 billion annually—a sum that does not include the substantial additional amounts spent by the states to administer and monitor it.  WIC provides women with milk, cheese, eggs, cereal, juice, and legumes (or peanut butter) in amounts calculated to provide all of their protein and over 50 percent of their calorie requirements.  Infants receive formula, cereal, and juice to satisfy their nutritional needs. Children aged one to four receive the same foods as their mothers, in amounts that should fulfill practically all of their nutritional requirements. The program now serves nearly one-third of the four million American babies born each year, and half of the more than eight million women, infants, and children who are eligible. Eligibility is restricted to women who are either pregnant or have delivered within the past year, and to their young children; participants must be “at nutritional risk” (a capriciously defined condition), and their family incomes (excluding in-kind benefits) must fall below 185 percent of the official nonfarm poverty line.

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