WIC Program

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (commonly known as the WIC program) serves to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children younger than 5 who are at nutritional risk. As the third largest food and nutrition assistance program, WIC served about 6.2 million participants per month in fiscal year 2020, including almost half of all infants born in the United States. Federal program costs for WIC totaled $4.9 billion in fiscal year 2020.

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ERS conducts and funds studies of the WIC program and other USDA domestic food and nutrition assistance programs. WIC provides low-income, nutritionally at-risk women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age with supplemental food, nutrition education, and referrals to health care and other social services. The report below explains how the WIC program works, examines program trends, describes some of the lesser-known effects of WIC, and discusses some of the major economic issues facing the program. See:

The WIC Program: Background, Trends, and Economic Issues, 2015 Edition

Breastfeeding rates among WIC participants are lower than the U.S. average. In a recent report requested by Congress, ERS estimated the effects that a hypothetical increase in breastfeeding rates in WIC would have on the number of WIC participants, costs to WIC and Medicaid, and health-related costs that accrue to WIC households or their health insurance providers. See:

The Economic Impacts of Breastfeeding: A Focus on USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

Small food retailers may have higher prices for WIC food items than large food retailers, which can affect WIC program costs, but they may be located closer to where WIC participants live, which can increase participant access to WIC-approved foods . A recent ERS report provides an in-depth look at the tradeoff between participant access and program costs in USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), synthesizing several studies of WIC in Greater Los Angeles, CA, from 2009 to 2013. See:

Cost Containment and Participant Access in USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): Evidence from the Greater Los Angeles, CA, Area

Information about program eligibility requirements, benefits, and the application process is available from USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, the agency that administers the WIC program.

ERS has compiled a database of more than 1,100 peer-reviewed research reports and articles covering a broad spectrum of food and nutrition assistance research, based on both intramural and extramural research published at ERS and elsewhere. The database is searchable by title, lead author, topics such as WIC, year of publication, data sets analyzed, and exact word(s) or phrases contained in the publication’s bibliographic citation. See Food and Nutrition Assistance Research Reports Database.