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Ill-Informed Claim Does Not Justify WIC Cuts

The House is scheduled to vote today on a measure to slash funding for the WIC nutrition program, which (as we have shown) would force the program to turn away at least 200,000 to 350,000 eligible low-income women and children next year.  The Appropriations Committee approved this unprecedented cut last month, in part based on the claim that more than 40 percent of WIC costs go to program administration.  But this claim is flatly false, as our new paper shows.

In reality, only about 9 percent of federal funds for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) go to administrative costs, and these costs represent only about 6 percent of the program’s total cost (see graph).


In deriving the 40 percent figure, the Committee apparently misunderstood a finding in a federal Agriculture Department (USDA) report that for every $1 in federal WIC funds spent for WIC foods in 2006, another 41 cents in federal funds went for administrative costs plus WIC nutrition services.  But:

  • 41 cents out of $1.41 in expenditures equals 29 percent, not 41 percent; and
  • over two-thirds of that 29 percent goes not for administrative costs but instead for core WIC services such as breastfeeding support, nutrition education, smoking cessation support, diet and health assessments, substance abuse screening and education, and referrals for immunizations and other needed care.

Moreover, by law, WIC funding per participant for these nutrition services and administrative costs combined is allowed to rise no faster than inflation, a constraint that has been in place for more than 20 years.

The proposed funding cuts for WIC are unprecedented.  Since 1997, Congress — on a bipartisan basis — has provided sufficient funding each year for WIC to serve all eligible low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and young children at nutritional risk who apply.  False claims regarding WIC administrative costs are no justification for breaking that 14-year commitment.