Congress Must Vote to Protect Food Assistance Benefits for Women, Infants and Children

May 21, 2024

It is critical that lawmakers vote this week to fully fund WIC in the fiscal year 2024 budget. Now is not the time to limit access to this crucial program.

By Kate Maehr and April Janney


We are fortunate in the United States to have a program that protects the health and nutrition of our nation’s newborn babies, toddlers, preschoolers and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Infants need a healthy start in life, and their mothers need the nutrition to ensure their babies get that.

For decades, it has been well-documented the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has improved the health and developmental outcomes of millions of children across the U.S. every year.

WIC participation results in the birth of healthier babies and improves prenatal and postnatal maternal health. The program reduces fetal deaths and infant mortality, decreases the rate of low birth-weight babies and increases the early detection of prenatal health risks. As a result, WIC significantly decreases medical costs, saving taxpayers up to $8 in Medicaid expenses for every $1 of health care spent on pregnant women.

With such undisputable efficacy, it is therefore simply astounding that WIC recently faced the threat of a budget shortfall that would have put women, infants and children at risk of losing this critical source of nutrition, undermining their health and well-being.


With families still struggling to afford higher grocery prices and other living costs, it is absolutely critical lawmakers fully fund WIC so that no eligible participant is turned away from nutritional assistance due to lack of funding.

Mothers like Chrystal T. know these struggles all too well. She lives in Austin with her 6-month-old baby and 12-year-old son and participates in WIC to help feed her infant. What she brings home in SNAP benefits and from working a part-time job is barely enough to keep herself and her older son afloat, as well as cover her $78 weekly child care copay.

“I had some medical issues after (giving) birth and couldn’t breastfeed. WIC helps me a great deal. Without it, I have no idea how I would afford formula,” she said.

An additional $1 billion is needed in FY2024 to ensure the program keeps pace with both increased food prices and increased enrollment. After months of congressional negotiations that threatened to leave WIC underfunded, Congress is set to vote on a bill to fully fund WIC this week. Here in Illinois, more than 164,000 women, infants and children rely on WIC. And WIC participation in Illinois has increased by 2.9% over the last 12 months — about 4,600 women, infants and children, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.

Without an increased appropriation this year, states would be forced to deny help to about 2 million women and young children by September — 49,000 in Illinois alone.

For the first time in decades, we could have seen the introduction of waitlists for a program that has traditionally received bipartisan support. This would have been devastating at a time when many families are still struggling to make ends meet.

The current WIC food package is only about $40 per person per month. During the pandemic, WIC participants received a large allotment for fruits and vegetables, increasing from $9 to $25 for children and from $11 to $44 for pregnant and postpartum women. Given that fresh produce is one of the most expensive food items, it’s not surprising focus groups with Illinois WIC participants credited the expanded fruit and vegetable benefits as an important reason for staying in the program.

It is critical Congress votes this week to fully fund WIC in the fiscal year 2024 budget. Now is not the time to limit access to this crucial program.

Kate Maehr is executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. April Janney is CEO of Illinois Action for Children. They are co-chairwomen of the Illinois Commission to End Hunger.

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