Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA) recently introduced legislation to extend nutrition assistance for vulnerable infants, children, and mothers across the country. The Wise Investment in our Children (WIC) Act would address a gap in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that allows young children to age off vital nutrition assistance before they are eligible for school meals. The WIC Act would also give states the option to certify infants and postpartum mothers for two years, which would reduce burdensome paperwork requirements, allow WIC staff to focus on providing services such as nutrition counseling, and encourage families to continue with WIC’s nutrition supports.
Vulnerable children are eligible for the WIC program up to age five, at which point many enter public school where they may qualify for school breakfast and lunch programs that help supplement their intake of nutritious foods. However, a significant number of children remain ineligible to start school well past their fifth birthday—sometimes for as much as a full year. Children who age off WIC at five years old and are unable to enroll in school may experience a gap in access to nutritious foods. By closing the WIC gap, nearly 600,000 children nationwide will maintain access to WIC’s nutrition services, ensuring they receive a strong, healthy nutritional foundation.
“The WIC program ensures that millions of women, infants, and children—including more than 17,000 in Maine—are getting the proper nutrition they need to grow and be healthy,” said Senator Collins. “The WIC Act takes important steps to keep eligible new mothers and young children enrolled in this successful and cost-effective nutrition program. By giving states the flexibility to address the WIC gap and reduce burdensome barriers to participation, our bipartisan bill builds upon the program’s proven ability to improve maternal and child well-being and health outcomes.”
“The long-term benefits of nutrition access for children are immeasurable. When children have proper nutrition early in life they’re healthier, do better in school and ultimately are better off when they enter the workforce,” said Senator Casey. “By closing the WIC gap and expanding benefits to age 6, we can help ensure more than 10,000 children in Pennsylvania do not experience a nutritional disadvantage simply because of their birthdate.”
“The Wise Investment in our Children Act is an important step toward strengthening nutrition assistance for women and young children and enhancing WIC’s public health impact. We thank Senators Bob Casey and Susan Collins for championing these straightforward program reforms that expand access to WIC’s quality nutrition services,” said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, President & CEO of the National WIC Association. “By extending eligibility for postpartum women and young children, this legislation is resolving crucial nutrition gaps that are vital to positive birth outcomes and healthy child development. This legislation also streamlines WIC clinic processes to relieve families of burdensome paperwork requirements as their children are transitioning to solid foods. Like WIC itself, this legislation is an investment in growing a healthier generation of Americans.”
“The Maine WIC program commends the efforts to improve accessibility and availability of WIC services to our susceptible population and in turn to improve health outcomes by decreasing otherwise preventable adverse nutrition-related ailments. Pregnant and postpartum moms, infants, and children should have access to nutritious foods and be provided the nutrition resources they need to make informed decisions to better their health. Maine WIC endorses all efforts to diminish barriers that would otherwise prevent potential participants from acquiring access to vital resources. Furnishing health-promoting services to children for an additional year after five; increasing the infant certification period from 12 months old to 24 months old; and providing an extension to postpartum women are all commonsense adjustments that will not only promote healthy relationships with food and nutrition, but will dramatically improve the quality of life for those participating in WIC,” said Ginger Roberts-Scott, Director, Maine WIC Nutrition Program.
The Wise Investment in our Children Act would allow states to adopt commonsense reforms to strengthen nutrition assistance for women and young children. Specifically, the WIC Act would:
· Extend child eligibility to age six, or the beginning of kindergarten, in order to eliminate the WIC gap;
· Eliminate burdensome paperwork requirements during a critical dietary transition period for infants by extending infant certification periods to two years;
· Improve new mothers’ access to nutrition supports by increasing the certification timeframe for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding women to two years postpartum.