The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program is intended for low-income women, infants and children who are determined to be at nutritional risk.
To be eligible for WIC, families must have at least one member that meets the categorical requirements. In addition to fulfilling the categorical requirements, families must also meet the residential, income and nutrition risk requirements.
Because the program is intended to provide temporary relief to needy individuals (learn more about short-term financial assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program here), the length of time a WIC participant is eligible to receive benefits depends on the severity of his or her needs. However, most WIC recipients receive benefits from 6 months to a year.
In order to receive WIC benefits, you must provide proof of eligibility to your local WIC office. Eligibility standards are generally the same across all of the state agencies responsible for administering the program.
However, some states do offer preference or priority to individuals who fall under certain categories. To learn more about common eligibility requirements for WIC, read the following sections.
Learn About Categorical WIC Requirements
Generally speaking, there are three categories of applicants who qualify for WIC: women, infants and children. However, applicants who fall under these three categories must meet additional requirements to obtain food assistance.
Benefits are typically available to low-income women who meet one or more of the following:
- Breastfeeding, up to their infant’s first birthday
- Postpartum, up to six months after birth
These women do not have to be married or have other children to qualify for WIC benefits. As for mothers with children of age, benefits are only provided to infants up to their first birthday and children up to their fifth birthday.
While meeting these requirements can make an applicant eligible for WIC benefits, infants and pregnant women who are determined to be at nutritional risk generally receive priority replacement.
This includes pregnant women who or underweight or suffer from serious health conditions, such as anemia. Additionally, preference is given to postpartum mothers who breastfeed.
While fathers do not meet categorical eligibility requirements, they can apply for WIC on behalf of eligible family members. Legal guardians, step parents and foster parents can also apply for WIC if they have children 5 years of age or younger.
Learn About WIC Income Guidelines
To qualify for WIC benefits, applicants must have a total household income that does not exceed WIC income guidelines for their household size. Income standards are set every financial year and are determined by family size and the national poverty level.
Each state agency’s income standard generally falls between 100 percent and 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) income guidelines.
Applicants can determine their income-eligibility by referring to the income levels set by their state agency. If they make less than the maximum income standard for their family size, then they may qualify for WIC benefits.
When determining household size, families must consider that each unborn baby counts as one extra person in the household.
Therefore, a pregnant woman would be considered two household members. Applicants will need to provide proof of income at their first WIC appointment through documentation, such as bank statements and pay stubs.
Those who already receive benefits from other government programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, TANF and Social Security benefits, might be deemed automatically eligible and therefore may not need to verify their income.
Learn About WIC Nutritional Risk Requirements
To determine whether or not an applicant meets the nutritional risk requirement, he or she must be assessed by a medical professional, such as a nurse, physician or nutritionist.
WIC clinics offer health screening services at no charge, but applicants and their children can also choose to be seen by their primary care doctor. In this case, applicants must obtain medical documentation from their doctor as proof of nutritional risk. This report must include the applicant’s height, weight and blood work.
Only members of the family who are categorically eligible WIC need to meet one condition of the nutritional risk requirements. The WIC program defines nutrition risk as a medical-based or dietary-based condition.
This may include a poor diet, a history of poor pregnancy outcomes, anemia or an applicant who is underweight. WIC differs from other food assistance programs because of the nutritional risk qualifications.
This is why the program also offers other services unrelated to food, such as immunization screening and referrals for children.
Where to Apply for WIC
Candidates can apply for services with their nearest WIC agency. Then, they generally need to make an appointment with their local office and obtain benefits from their designated agency. Applicants are not required to live in a certain service district for a specific period of time to qualify for benefits.
For those who move during their certification period, WIC benefits may still be available until the period expires. These families must perform the WIC benefits transfer process to be put on the top of their new state’s waiting list to receive benefits.
Note: Before applying for WIC benefits, applicants can determine their eligibility by using the WIC PreScreening Tool available online. The assessment takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.
Who qualifies for WIC priority?
While an individual may meet all WIC eligibility requirements, this does not guarantee that he or she will receive benefits right away. This is primarily due to the fact that some WIC agencies do not have enough funding to serve all applicants in need of WIC benefits.
Most agencies keep a waiting list and provide services when they can to those at the top of their priority system. In Georgia, priority is given to postpartum minors. However, while a postpartum minor may be given priority in Georgia, she may not while claiming WIC benefits in another state.
Priority systems are established to ensure that families with the highest priority need and individuals with serious medical conditions are taken care of. There are seven priority levels, each dependent in income, age and medical conditions.
Some states eve define homelessness as a higher priority. Priority one typically includes pregnant women, breastfeeding women and infants with dietary medical conditions. On the other hand, priority seven includes those who are at risk of medical conditions without WIC benefits.