WASHINGTON – This week, Congresswoman Hayes (CT-05) and Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (PR-At Large), introduced the WIC for Kids Act to eliminate barriers to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) enrollment for millions of pregnant women, mothers, and children. Removing these barriers will ensure millions of eligible mothers and children are able to get on the WIC program, and stay on the program, while they need it. This will improve child and maternal health, increase food access, and move America one step closer to eradicating hunger.
Before federal intervention, generations of children in America suffered from a lack of nutritious foods. WIC was created in 1972 largely thanks to then Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm championed the program to improve the quality of life for her constituents of Crown Heights, New York and beyond by allowing mothers and children struggling with poverty to afford food at the time most critical to child health. Chisholm's dedication launched a nationwide program for food access for low-income mothers and young children up to age five.
“Congresswoman Chisholm dedicated her life’s work to uplifting families in poverty and underrepresented communities. It has been a humbling experience to continue her work as Chair of the Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Subcommittee. I introduced the WIC for Kids Act of 2021 to make it less burdensome on families to enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) by streamlining the process and providing automatic eligibility for WIC when families have documented eligibility in other programs. It has been demonstrated that WIC improves the health of children, benefits local economies, and promotes lifelong healthy habits. However, millions of mothers and children who are eligible for WIC do not access the benefit. In fact, only 56.9 percent of eligible Americans participate in WIC, with a 30 percent decrease in retention of children in the program from 0-5 years old,” said Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, who has advocated for a White House Conference on Hunger.
“The WIC for Kids Act seeks to simplify the eligibility process families undergo when seeking participation in the WIC Program. By looking at adjunctive eligibility and participation in other federally-funded programs, like Head Start and federal nutrition assistance programs, we are allowing more time and energy to be focused on other aspects of the eligibility process, as well as potentially increasing the amount of constituents that are eligible and could benefit from WIC but are currently not participating,” said Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón. “In Puerto Rico, we have over 100,000 WIC participants, making this a significant source of assistance for mothers and children on the Island. I am proud to be an original cosponsor and look forward to continuing working alongside Rep. Hayes and her staff on moving this bill forward.”
Currently, WIC participation and retention is low due to the prolonged process of recertification, which can include income documentation with in-person verification at a WIC clinic, pay stubs for the last 30 days, tax returns, income verification letters, utility bills, and/or rent receipts.
Enrolling in WIC through income documentation can sometimes require several trips to the WIC clinic and in some instances may take several days. Evidence suggests that bringing in income and residency documentation for initial and subsequent WIC certifications may cause some families to drop out of the program or choose not to participate in the first place.
Alternatively, enrollment in WIC through adjunctive eligibility is a one-minute process, and requires a WIC client to present their Medicaid card, or demonstrate receipt of SNAP or TANF benefits. This makes the process much easier for participants, and the WIC clinic. The WIC for Kids Act would allow the same, easier process to take place for more mothers and children. Conferring adjunctive eligibility also cuts down on administrative cost and burden for WIC staff.
“The WIC for Kids Act is an essential step in reaching eligible children and ensuring that all kids get a healthy start. As the evidence continues to grow that WIC leads to healthier outcomes and reduces childhood obesity, we should be prioritizing solutions that make it easier for children to remain enrolled for WIC’s effective nutrition support,” said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, president and chief executive officer of the National WIC Association. “This bill doubles down on strategic partnerships and administrative flexibilities that will enhance children’s health and reduce overall healthcare costs. We applaud Reps. Jahana Hayes and Jenniffer González Colón for their thoughtful legislation and look forward to building support for these critical provisions.”
This bill streamlines eligibility for WIC enrollment to make it easier for families to participate. Specifically, the bill confers automatic eligibility for WIC for mothers and children who:
- Reside in a household in which a member participates in SNAP
- Participate in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Participate in Head Start, or reside in a household in which one or more children are enrolled in Head Start.
- Reside in a household that participates in Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Are members of a family of a pregnant woman, postpartum woman, infant, or child that receives medical assistance from Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
- The bill also allows for certification periods to be adjusted to help align family certification periods, and directs states to include a plan on how they will serve kinship families as part of their state plans.
The WIC for Kids Act is endorsed by: National WIC Association, National Head Start Association, Food Research & Action Center, End Hunger CT!, CT Food Bank, First Focus Campaign for Children, Save the Children, ZERO TO THREE, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, American Heart Association.
The bill's text can be found here.
Congresswoman Jahana Hayes sits on the Committees on Education & Labor and Agriculture and proudly represents Connecticut’s 5th District. She was a public school teacher in Connecticut for more than 15 years and was recognized in 2016 as the National Teacher of the Year.