Quarantine Shoppers Should Avoid “WIC” Products Designated for Low-Income Women

Supermajority Education Fund

March 23, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. has caused anxiety among Americans in many ways but especially affected how they’re shopping in grocery stores. Paper products, especially toilet paper, for example, have been disappearing from stores at alarming rates, and many stores are starting to limit the number of paper products that customers can buy. But while the White House has urged shoppers not to hoard products, it hasn’t yet warned them against buying products that qualify for the government-subsidized “WIC” program — or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. The program provides nutritious food for low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding people, and also supports infants and children up to age 5. 

WIC has very specific requirements for the types of products that parents can purchase; parents participating in this program can’t just buy any brand they want. Certain items, such as juice or breakfast cereal, have a maximum ounce requirement, and there are also specific nutritional requirements WIC products have to meet. 

Last week, Suit Up Maine, a progressive, grassroots group in Maine, tweeted to non-WIC shoppers about why they should check labels before purchasing a product labeled for WIC. “People who use WIC to feed their kids can’t switch to another brand or kind of food. If a store runs out of WIC-approved options, they will go home empty-handed,” the group wrote. 

Bethany Davis, a social worker based in Seattle, affirmed to Supermajority News that it’s very important that shoppers consider the WIC program when they are looking at the shelves in their grocery stores. She said that different states have different colors for the “WIC” label, and shoppers should look out for that label on grocery store shelves. 

“Picture this: You’re a single mom with your kids in the grocery store,” Davis said. “You were just laid off as a server, the grocery store is all out of the brand of cheese they allow you to purchase, and you cannot get that brand.”

Something else to be mindful of? WIC and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) do not cover paper and cleaning products. So, that “no hoarding” tip should be taken seriously. Consumers can find a list of eligible foods that can be purchased on WIC on the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service website, as well as a list of non-eligible products for SNAP. 

“There is a stigma that WIC is misused, and that usually is not the case,” Davis said. “Parents are trying to provide food for their kids, just like the majority of parents around the world. It’s important to support families, and that may involve pausing and thinking about how your choices and your access to resources can impact others.”