The American Rescue Plan (ARP) provided funding for a range of programs to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the hardships it has inflicted on millions of families in the United States. One of the many pro-family provisions in the new law allows states to temporarily increase the fruits and vegetables benefit to women and children up to $35 per month for four months (the current WIC package provides $9 per month for a child and $11 per month for women). Both the increased benefits and administrative implementation costs are fully federally funded. The law also provides considerable funding to conduct outreach, offer new ways for families to enroll in the program, and test new delivery models with the aim of modernizing the program and reaching more eligible families.
WIC has been shown to reduce rates of food insecurity and promote children’s healthy development. However, the current cash value voucher for fruits and vegetables is inadequate. Well before the pandemic, a 2017 report from the Institutes of Medicine (now the National Academies) recommended that the benefit should be significantly increased to better support the nutritional needs of children and women enrolled in the program. Furthermore, we know that only half of people who are eligible for WIC benefits participate in the program, with considerable state-by-state variation. During the pandemic, food insecurity among families with children doubled, and communities of color have been disproportionately affected, driving the need to increase funding for this important benefit.
This is a time-limited benefit, which expires at the end of September 2021. In order to take advantage of the enhanced benefits option for the full four months available, states must act by June. The ARP’s funding boost for the fruits and vegetable voucher, as well as its investments in outreach and system modernization is common-sense policy to begin addressing families’ challenges around food insecurity and access to nutritious options. Children and families deserve no less.