Your Grocery Budget: WIC
I’ll preface this post by saying that my first job as a dietitian was at WIC. It was a great experience! I learned so much about breastfeeding, pregnancy and how to feed an infant. I loved helping families both financially and through education and support. Seeing cute babies all day was a perk too!
So what is WIC? WIC’s official name is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. It’s a program for pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children under the age of 5. To become a participant, you must verify certain household income requirements to confirm eligibility with a WIC staff member in their office. Next, you'd receive an eWIC card with an allotted amount of benefits. This card is then used to buy healthy foods at the grocery store. For infants that are formula fed, additional benefits specifically for formula will be provided. Be aware that your baby may need more formula than WIC provides, so you should plan to buy additional formula with your own money as well. For women that are breastfeeding, benefits for extra food will be provided as breastfeeding increases mom’s Calorie and nutrient needs. I can only speak for the Catholic Charities of Buffalo sites, but they provide free manual breast pumps to anyone interested and can also provided a double electric breast pump to some women that are in need. Through the program, breastfeeding women often have access to a lactation consultant as well as a peer counselor.
The groceries you'd be able to purchase with WIC benefits will definitely not to be enough on their own (hence the word “Supplemental” in the program's name), but it helps out A LOT! You’ll be able to get things like milk, cheese, eggs, peanut butter, beans, juice, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, so definitely a nice, nutritious start!
To see if you meet income eligibility (New York State), click here: https://www.wicstrong.com/about/eligibility/.
If you live in Niagara, Erie or Chautauqua counties, the WIC program is run through Catholic Charities of Buffalo. You can call (716)-218-1484 to find their locations. You can also find more information, including specific locations, here: https://www.ccwny.org/wic. To find an agency in different New York State counties, click here: https://www.wicstrong.com/wic-locations/counties/.
Once you have benefits put on your eWIC card at the WIC office, it’s time to shop! Most grocery stores accept eWIC cards at the register. Additional retailers such as Target, Walmart, 7-Eleven and various convenience stores often accept eWIC benefits as well. Many moons ago, when I worked at WIC, we provided paper "WIC checks" and you would have to separate your WIC items from your other groceries when cashing out. Now that the eWIC card is being used, this is no longer necessary. Pay with your eWIC card first and then you can pay with other methods such as cash, SNAP, a credit card, etc. There is no need to spend the whole month’s benefits at one time. Your eWIC card is reusable so don’t throw it out - at your next WIC appointment more benefits will be added to it. There’s even an app now (called WIC2Go) that can help you keep track of your benefits, as well as your scheduled appointments at the WIC office. Also with the app, you can find stores near you that accept WIC and you can also scan items to see if they’re WIC-approved.
WIC is a federally funded program, so it’s in all 50 states. However, every state, and even every local agency, does things a little bit differently. If you are outside New York State, there will likely be different income eligibility requirements. Additionally, the eWIC card I discuss above is specific to New York state, so other states may provide benefits via different means. If you live out of state and are trying to find a WIC site near you, try searching online for “[your state] WIC” or click here: https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/toll-free-numbers-wic-state-agencies.