USDA Proposes New WIC Package
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a proposal for changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages. The WIC program provides supplemental nutrition services to pregnant and postpartum women and children from birth to age five, serving nearly half of infants born in the U.S.
Why Are the WIC Food Packages Changing?
By law, WIC food packages are reevaluated through a comprehensive scientific review at least every ten years to ensure they remain aligned with nutrition science, public health concerns, and cultural eating patterns.
The proposed changes are intended to provide:
Learn more about the history of WIC food packages.
What is the Process for WIC Food Package Changes?
FNS tasked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) – then called the Institute of Medicine – with issuing recommendations on the WIC food packages. NASEM was tasked with recommending updated food packages that were cost-neutral with the current food packages, which means that any increases in the costs of components of the packages or allowed substitutions had to be balanced by corresponding decreases in costs elsewhere. In 2017, NASEM published its recommendations in the “Review of WIC Food Packages: Improving Balance and Choice: Final Report.”
FNS policy experts considered the NASEM report alongside a range of other sources, including an independent review of the current WIC food packages and of the nutritional needs of those eligible for WIC; the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for America, which included new recommendations specifically for women who are pregnant, infants, and children under age 2 years; WIC redemption data; feedback from WIC participants, state and tribal partners, and other government agencies; and beyond. Taking all of this together, the FNS developed and released the “Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): Revisions in the WIC Food Packages” proposal in the Federal Register.
This is a proposal, not an implementation change that is already approved. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to submit written comments on the proposal by February 21, 2023. Once the comment period closes, FNS will use the submitted feedback to update their proposal and develop it into a final rule. FNS proposed that State agencies would have 18 months from the final rule's publication to implement the rule’s provisions.
What Does the NASEM Report Say About Lactation Outcomes?
The current program requires clients to select either the fully formula feeding or fully breastfeeding package during the first thirty days postpartum. After this thirty-day period, a partially breastfeeding package also becomes available. Public health experts and breastfeeding advocates thought that this would limit the risk of early supplementation, which can interfere with milk production, and result in increased breastfeeding initiation and duration rates among WIC families. Instead, the NASEM report found that this provision resulted in more women selecting the fully formula-feeding package.
As a result, NASEM now recommends that following a detailed assessment of the needs of the dyad by WIC staff, women should be permitted to receive the quantity of formula they need to support their desired level of breastfeeding, without waiting 30 days.
How Would Breastfeeding Packages Change Under This Proposal?
The proposed changes strengthen support for moms and babies across a wider range of breastfeeding options so that breastfeeding is not an all or nothing choice. The proposed rule creates a separate and enhanced food package specifically for mothers who are mostly, but not exclusively, breastfeeding to align with their higher calorie needs. The rule also proposes adding canned fish and higher benefits for purchasing fruits and vegetables to all breastfeeding food packages, and adds flexibility to the amount of formula provided for partially breastfed infants to better support individual breastfeeding goals.
How is the USBC Staff Seeing This Proposal?
The USBC staff is looking closely at the WIC food package proposal and closely considering what it could mean for the families and communities we serve.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the infant formula shortage have clearly demonstrated that our nation lacks the infrastructure needed to comprehensively protect and support infant nutrition security. Maternity care practices that hinder the establishment of breastfeeding are far too common. The majority of families do not have access to paid family and medical leave and many struggle to pump at work. Race and zip code significantly impact access to healthy foods and quality health care.
Given all that moms and parents are up against, it is critical that we recognize the reality and meet them where they are. Whether they are exclusively or partially human milk feeding, directly breastfeeding or pumping, parents and babies need and deserve our support. We are optimistic that this proposal from USDA would be a positive step forward.
How to Share Feedback on the Proposal
To respond to the public comment opportunity, visit the Federal Register webpage and select “Submit a Formal Comment.” Responding to public comment opportunities is not lobbying. The federal government is actively soliciting input to inform its decision-making, but comments will not be accepted after Tuesday, February 21.
12/10/2022 12:37:57 pm
Thanks for alerting us to this important issue and giving us the links to comment on the proposed changes to the WIC food packages. I think offering more formula on the partially breastfeeding food packages will not help moms to breastfeed for longer. I commented that offering up to 2 years (or more) of either partially or fully breastfeeding food packages for the mother would do more to inspire longer duration of breastfeeding. WIC already spends too much on infant formula and too little on breastfeeding. This could be an opportunity to improve breastfeeding food packages INSTEAD OF offering and spending more on formula. Formula is already WIC biggest cost and WIC needs to extricate itself from being the biggest purchaser of formula! I would love to see other USBC members and USBC itself offer the recommendation on the proposed WIC food package changes to give breastfeeding moms more healthy foods and for longer, rather than more formula!
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