Participation in Missouri’s WIC program up 7.7%, remains below national rates

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(The Center Square) – Participation in Missouri’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for women, infants and children increased 7.7% during the last federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which oversees the program, said in a media release it’s one of seven states with consistently lower-than-national eligible participation rates during the 2021 federal fiscal year. The department said overall participation decreased over several years “with a sharper decrease during the pandemic when it was difficult to access WIC benefits in person.”

Research from the United States Department of Agriculture found 84,900 out of 215,100 eligible Missourians participated in the WIC program in 2021 for a coverage rate of 39.5%.

The USDA reported Missouri had 39.4% (50,200 of 127,400 eligible) of white-only, not Hispanic recipients receiving benefits in 2021, 40.9% (8,800 of 21,400) of Hispanic/Latino, and 39.1% (25,900 of 66,200) of those other than white-only and not Hispanic.

WIC provides nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, nutritious food and referrals to health services. The Department of Health and Senior Services said it’s actively pursuing outreach opportunities and leveraging technology to improve access to services and improve the benefit redemption process. The department also said its removing barriers caused by technology and remote services along with improving direct communication to eligible individuals to improve WIC participation.

Nationally, the average monthly WIC-eligible population was 12.1 million in calendar year 2021. WIC served approximately 51.2% of those eligible for benefits in 2021 in the U.S., down from 52% in 2020.

Recipients can qualify for the WIC program if they are pregnant, breastfeeding or a new mother, an infant up to age one or a child up to their fifth birthday, and must be a Missouri resident and meet income eligibility requirements.

The USDA reported WIC coverage rates vary throughout the nation. The USDA stated infants have the highest coverage rates and women had lower coverage rates; children up to age 4 had lower coverage rates than the combined group of pregnant and postpartum women.

Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services said it implemented or continued outreach and collaboration to promote WIC eligibility and benefits with the Department of Social Services, MO HealthNet, the state’s Medicaid agency, and its health plan partners.

“People may be adjunctively income-eligible for WIC if they or certain household members can document participation in Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, which supplements a family’s resources for purposes of buying food), or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program (which provides cash aid and funding for other services),” the USDA reported. “Among all the infants and children eligible for WIC (income-eligible and adjunctively income-eligible), 40% were enrolled in Medicaid but did not receive SNAP or TANF cash benefits, 37% participated in both Medicaid and SNAP.”

Earlier this year, a physical presence requirement by the USDA was waived, allowing virtual or over-the-phone WIC services. Before the end of 2024, Missouri WIC will remove an in-person requirement for loading and redeeming benefits through its electronic benefit transfer cards.

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