Child participation in WIC increased in 2021, first time in more than a decade

This is a line graph showing the average monthly WIC participation from fiscal years 1974 to 2021 for all participants, then broken out by children, infants, and women.

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food packages, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals at no cost to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age who are at nutritional risk. More than half of all WIC participants are children (54 percent) followed by infants (23 percent) and women (22 percent). WIC participation for the three groups combined has been declining for more than a decade. Participation averaged 6.2 million people per month in fiscal year (FY) 2021, nearly the same as the previous year, and 32 percent below the record high of 9.2 million in FY 2010. In FY 2021, participation by women decreased by 5 percent and infant participation decreased by 6 percent from the previous year. Declines in the number of births in the United States, which began in 2008, may be a factor in these participation declines. Child participation, on the other hand, reversed course in FY 2021, and increased by 5 percent from the previous year. This was the first increase in child participation in more than a decade. Administrative flexibilities put in place in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may have helped to support participation, especially among children. Beginning in FY 2020 and continuing through FY 2021, USDA waivers temporarily allowed State agencies to extend certification periods for certain WIC participants by up to 3 months and to conduct remote certifications for applicants and recertifications for WIC participants. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report, released June 22, 2022.

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