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VERIFY: Are people who use the WIC program limited in what they buy?

A viral tweet from actress Kerry Washington is asking for people to avoid buying WIC-designated items when stocking up on supplies needed for social distancing.

As reality sets in that everyday life will likely be disrupted for the foreseeable future, people are stocking up on supplies in order to limit the amount of public interactions.

Officials and grocers are asking for the public to not "panic buy" goods so as not to strain the supply chain, and folks online are asking people to be mindful of vulnerable shoppers - the elderly and those on food stamps.

A viral tweet from actress Kerry Washington is asking for people to avoid buying WIC-designated items when stocking up on supplies needed for social distancing.

"People who rely on WIC products to feed their kids cannot," she tweeted.


We wanted to VERIFY that request, so we took our question to an expert.

QUESTION

Are people who use the WIC program limited in what they buy?

ANSWER

Yes.

EXPLANATION

First, the WIC program stands for The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

The federal program provides grants to states for food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income women and children up to 5 years old who are at "nutritional risk," according to the USDA.

Currently, according to spokeswoman Nancy Nydem with the Georgia Department of Public Health, the USDA is not allowing flexibility for WIC shoppers. 

However, a legislative package passed in the U.S. House of Representatives over the weekend included an additional $500 million in funding for the WIC program, and part of that bill would allow the USDA to grant waivers of certain requirements for the program through Sept. 30. It would specifically allow the USDA to grant waivers of the physical presence requirement, in order to promote social distancing. 

The bill has also passed the Senate and now heads to the president's desk.

"In certain limited situations, a state or local area agency may conduct certification online or by phone. In addition, documentation requirements for initial certification may be waived in limited instances when they present an unreasonable barrier to participation," Nydem said.

However, the program is still run on a state-by-state basis. And while states have flexibility to alter food packages and policies, all states have a base federally required food package set of rules that must be adhered to, according to Nydem. Still, states can request approval to substitute certain food package items with similar items when WIC approved foods are unavailable.

When it comes to shoppers in general, Nydem said WIC recipients are under the same constraints as other shoppers, and food access is based on the availability of supply.

"We also refer everyone USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue’s 3/17/2020 message that, 'while it’s important to have shelf-stable foods on hand, there’s no need to hoard items… we need to respect the needs of our fellow neighbors,'" Nydem added.

According to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, the USDA intends to use all available program flexibilities and contingencies to serve our program participants across our 15 nutrition programs. For more information about USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service’s COVID-19 response, please visit: www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus.

SOURCE

Nancy Nydem, Georgia Department of Public Health

USDA 

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