Amid the coronavirus pandemic, people are (understandably) concerned about getting groceries, health items, and cleaning supplies. While images of empty shelves and sold-out stores have gone viral on social media, one under-discussed issue is worth keeping in mind while you and yours do any shopping. Along with strategically double-checking expiration dates, one symbol is worth a closer look: WIC.
You’ve probably glanced at the label in the past. WIC is nothing new; in fact, variations have been around for decades. WIC is not connected with coronavirus pandemic in any obvious way, except for the fact that for families who rely on WIC-approved products, those out-of-stock items might mean going home with empty bags, empty stomachs, and a new layer of shame and fear.
What is WIC? WIC is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. It’s a federal program for low-income women with children under 5 years old. WIC generally covers eggs, milk, fortified foods, peanut butter, beans, tofu, fruits, vegetables, canned fish, and more. Women who don’t breastfeed are able to receive iron-fortified infant formula. People can also use WIC assistance at participating farmers’ markets to buy fresh produce.
To qualify, people must be pregnant or postpartum and breastfeeding, meet income guidelines that fall at 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines, and be evaluated to be at “nutritional risk” by a health professional. People must also meet state residency requirements.
How many people are really affected by WIC? Looking at the fiscal year 2018, over 3 million children, 1 million infants, and 1 million adult women. If the Senate passes the legislative package the House approved over the weekend, WIC may get $500 million in funding, though waivers for items or online orders would still be on a state-by-state basis.
All of this is to say: Unless you qualify for the program, please leave WIC-approved items on the shelf as you stock up during this coronavirus outbreak. If you’re in a nightmare scenario where these are the only items left, of course, do what you need to do. But if other options are available, or if you can reasonably get to another store, come back another day, or so on, please think twice about buying out what might be someone else’s only option.
While every person’s individual situation is different, it’s worth considering that for people who are approved for WIC, money and resources are likely tight all around; people might not have their own reliable transportation, for example, or might not be able to afford childcare while they bounce from one market to the next. If those scenarios are more of an inconvenience than a true barrier or risk for you, consider leaving the WIC-approved item on the shelf.
Public health crises are unsettling, if not outright terrifying, for most people. We can all do our part in making sure everyone has enough food by slowing down and remembering that the most vulnerable among us are just as deserving of a full stomach. Our individual choices can do a small bit toward making that a reality.