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2024 Appropriations Agreement Fully Funds WIC and Rejects Harmful Food Package Proposals, Creating Opportunities to Reach More Eligible Low-Income Families

The fiscal year 2024 appropriations law enacted March 9 included full funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The $7.03 billion provided for WIC, roughly $1 billion more than the 2023 enacted level, will be sufficient to serve all eligible new and expecting parents, infants, and young children who seek benefits and will allow participants to receive the full, science-based food benefit.

Full funding, coupled with the rejection of proposed harmful changes to WIC’s food packages, is a significant victory for the millions of low-income families who receive support from WIC. It also offers an important opportunity to connect more eligible people with WIC’s proven benefits.

Though WIC has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support and Congress has provided full funding every year since 1997, full funding for 2024 was not guaranteed. Data showed that participation and food costs were growing more than anticipated and the funding levels originally requested by the Biden Administration and proposed in Congress would be far short of what was needed.

As fiscal year 2024 began, Congress passed a series of short-term funding measures that extended WIC’s now-inadequate 2023 funding amount. While these stopgaps temporarily forestalled cuts to WIC participation and benefits, they did not provide any additional funding, heightening the risk of a shortfall that would have forced states to put eligible people on waiting lists for the first time in nearly three decades. But with full funding now secured, no one who is eligible will be turned away and states can renew their efforts to enroll more eligible families.

The final funding agreement also rejected harmful proposals that would have weakened WIC’s evidence-based food packages. Children aged 1 through 4 and pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum participants will continue to receive the current $26 to $52 per month cash-value benefit to buy fruits and vegetables, rejecting a proposal from House Republicans to slash this benefit to $11 to $15 per month. This will keep WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefit in line with recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

The agreement also rejected two industry-driven policy riders included in House Republicans’ bill. These riders would have overruled the independent process to set WIC’s food packages and required WIC to provide amounts of milk and types of cereal that are out of step with evidence-based recommendations from scientists and nutrition experts.

In part because WIC’s structure is so strongly evidence-based, WIC participation is linked to important benefits for health and cognitive development. If eligible people had been put on waiting lists due to a funding shortfall, they would have missed out on WIC’s nutritious foods and vital services during a critical window for children’s development and could have experienced long-term health consequences as a result.

But even with full funding and without waiting lists, too many eligible families have not been benefiting from WIC. Despite the program’s proven benefits, WIC has typically had low take-up among eligible people, with only about half of eligible people nationwide participating in 2021 (the most recent year for which estimates are available). Take-up is even lower during pregnancy and as babies grow into toddlers and preschoolers.

After several years of declining caseloads, WIC participation increased by 5.3 percent between fiscal years 2021 and 2023, meaning that about 332,000 more low-income parents, infants, and young children benefitted from WIC in an average month. This increase in participation is an encouraging sign that recent federal investments and state efforts to modernize the program and increase take-up are beginning to show results.

But there’s more to be done. With the assurance of full funding to support growing caseloads this year, it’s important for states to reinvigorate efforts to reduce participation barriers and reach more eligible families. As our recent report explains, state WIC agencies can use numerous existing flexibilities and best practices to streamline the enrollment process, partner with other programs like SNAP and Medicaid to reach WIC-eligible families, and make the shopping experience easier for participants to navigate. Our state fact sheets can help them identify areas for growth.

State Medicaid agencies can play an especially important role in making sure that Medicaid enrollees — who participate in WIC at even lower rates than eligible people overall — also enroll in WIC to improve their health.

As the fiscal year 2025 appropriations process unfolds over the coming months, it will be critical for Congress to signal a continued commitment to full funding early in the process and then to adequately fund WIC to ensure that progress made this year to increase take-up can be sustained in the long term.

WIC is one of the most effective investments our country can make to help families thrive, but it has long been underutilized. With full funding secured for 2024, it is vital for state policymakers to do all they can to ensure eligible low-income families aren’t missing out on the important benefits WIC provides.

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