Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
featured

WIC Nutrition Program's impact on the health of South Carolina families

Mom and baby in grocery store

The new Netflix series “Maid” is on track to become the platform’s most watched mini-series with over 67 million households streaming it. It follows a few months in the life of a young mother, Alex, as she and her toddler flee an emotionally abusive relationship. The show raises awareness to the brokenness of the government systems she relies on to help her overcome her difficult circumstances and many women found themselves relating to the main character’s struggles.

For me, the most relatable part was the scene in the grocery store as the cashier and shoppers behind Alex scoffed as she presented the government benefits voucher she relied on to feed her daughter.

According to America’s Health Rankings, one of the biggest challenges facing South Carolinians’ health is low participation in the supplemental Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program among eligible children ages one to four, meaning many families who could be reaping the benefits are foregoing them.

Pre-pandemic, less than half of eligible participants were enrolled in the program. However, the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities notes that there has since been 17 percent growth in participation. Nonetheless, many more families statewide could still benefit from the program.

Likely reasons for the program's underutilization include the negative stigma associated with those who use it and that people may not realize they are eligible.

As a former WIC participant myself, I definitely felt stigmatized as I held up the line having grabbed the wrong item, or as I chose a register with a longer line because the cashier in the shorter line seemed annoyed by my vouchers the last time I shopped.

Thankfully, South Carolina WIC has made some changes that make using benefits easier and more discreet. The old system offered a series of vouchers with certain items on each voucher that all had to be purchased in the same transaction, but in 2020 they began issuing cards that look like a credit card. Checking out became much faster and more discreet. Cashiers no longer minded ringing me up and typically didn’t need to call a manager over for assistance.

Additionally, instead of having to get groups of items at the same time like the old system required, WIC shoppers can use any portion of their benefits at one time and save the other items for later in the month when they are ready to consume them, which in my experience reduces food waste.

WIC used to require participants to attend in-person classes about basic nutrition, but these have now been made available online and can be completed at the participant's convenience in a matter of minutes. Due to COVID-19, even onboarding appointments and participant follow-ups are conducted by phone appointment instead of having to go to the nearest DHEC and wait with a fussy baby or energetic toddler in tow.

If you’re like the 29 percent of respondents surveyed by The Penny Hoarder who say they have had to choose between paying for childcare and buying groceries, or if you’re concerned your budget will be busted in the new year with the monthly child tax credit going away as inflation causes the price of everything to rise, there is hope! You may be eligible for WIC and not realize it.

Requirements to join the program are not as stringent as you may think. You don’t have to be as desperate as Alex in "Maid" to receive assistance.

  • If you’re pregnant or have a child under five years old, visit scdhec.gov to view income requirements or wic.fns.usda.gov to pre-screen yourself before applying.
  • If you are a foster parent or are enrolled in Medicaid or SNAP, you automatically qualify. Call 1-855-4-SCDHEC (1-855-472-3432) to make an appointment.

In addition to the normal monthly benefits, until March 2022, WIC is providing substantial additional money toward fresh fruits and vegetables, and in the summer/fall months, additional vouchers are available for use at local farmer’s markets.

Accepting the help my family needed to get on our financial feet was one of the best things I’ve ever done, saving us about $100 each month on groceries, and affording us opportunities to do fun things we could not have otherwise done, like visiting the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry in Charleston and Edventure in Columbia thanks to deep discounts for WIC participants.

I’ve always lived by the motto “accepting help is its own kind of strength,” and “Maid” exemplifies this courage and strength. I hope in 2022 that others will be inspired to realize the strength in knowing when to accept help that is readily available.