WIC Shifts to Remote Support
For over 40 years, participants have mostly interacted with WIC at in-person in community-based clinics. Families go to WIC offices to enroll, to receive EBT benefits for healthy foods and drinks, or for nutrition or breastfeeding supports.
But in March the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person visits unsafe. One of the first COVID-19 relief packages, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, enabled WIC services to be provided in new ways. For example, the physical presence requirement for WIC certification has been waived.
The majority of state WIC agencies have implemented effective remote services, but in states that could not easily ramp up the necessary technological infrastructure, clinics have implemented curbside services that reduce in-person contact while continuing to meet participant needs.
Another shift was in how WIC participants used their benefits to buy healthy foods and drinks. Normally, WIC participants can use benefits to select healthy foods from a set of products that meet nutritional requirements for mothers and young children. But the early weeks of the pandemic saw shortages of staple foods and beverages at grocery stores across the country, including milk, whole-wheat bread, and infant formula.
In response, states expanded the approved foods for WIC families to include a broader array of package sizes and brands. WIC also partnered with manufacturers and retailers to address disruptions to the supply chain, but sporadic shortages remain in both urban and rural settings.
Although the circumstances vary dramatically from state to state, WIC continues to pivot to meet new challenges and continues to be extremely helpful to families who rely on it for access to healthy food, breastfeeding support, nutrition education, and referrals.