As the name suggests, the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program was
developed to protect the health of low-income pregnant and post-partum
women, infants, and children up to age 5. The program provides
participants with vouchers that are used to purchase specific foods that
are identified as being nutritious. More than nine million people
receive WIC benefits each year. WIC is administered by the USDA, which
issued a final rule on food packages on February 28.
One important change for vegans and others avoiding dairy products is
that medical documentation is no longer needed for program participants
to get vouchers for soy beverages and calcium-set tofu in place of cow’s
milk. Of course, not all states allow soy milk or tofu to replace cow’s
milk but for those that do, it will be easier for this substitution to
take place. As of 2011, 71% of state agencies allow soy milk to replace
cow’s milk and 40% allow tofu to replace cow’s milk.
Other positive changes include:
• Previously, the only kind of tofu that was allowed was tofu that had
been prepared using only calcium salts. This kind of tofu is not
available in many marketplaces. The new rules allow tofu that is
calcium-set but which contains other coagulants like magnesium chloride.
State agencies are encouraged to choose brands of tofu with the highest
amounts of calcium to be included on their lists of foods approved for
purchase with WIC vouchers.
• Refried beans, without added sugars, oils, fats, vegetables, or meat,
have been added to the list of allowed legumes.
• Whole wheat pasta has been added to the list of whole grain options.
Other whole grain options include brown rice, bulgur, barley, oatmeal,
or corn or whole-wheat tortillas as well as whole-wheat bread
• WIC participants can receive vouchers to purchase fruits and
vegetables. The value of these vouchers has been increased from $6 per
month to $8 per month for children. Women are given $10 per month for
fruit and vegetables purchases.
• State agencies are required to allow organic fruits and vegetables to
be purchased. In the past, some states did not allow organic products to
be purchased with WIC vouchers.
• Fresh bananas can be used in place of some of the jarred baby food.
• States are given the option of allowing families with 9-11 month old
infants to purchase some fresh fruits and vegetables in place of some
jarred baby food.
Implementation of these changes will begin May 1, 2014.
The Vegetarian Resource Group was one of more than 7,000 groups and
individuals who submitted comments to the USDA recommending specific
changes to the WIC Program. We are delighted to see that many of the
suggestions we made were implemented, including removal of the
requirement for medical documentation in order to get vouchers for soy
milk or tofu and increased dollar amounts for fruit and vegetable purchases.